FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2013 file photo, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., left, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speak at a joint news conference in Chicago. Both Durbin and Kirk have proposed naming the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington after Prohibition-era crime fighter Eliot Ness, but a prominent Chicago alderman and others point to evidence that Ness role in the demise of Chicago mobster Al Capone was as mythical as Mrs. OLearys cow starting the Great Chicago Fire and are trying to convince the senators to drop the whole thing. The senators are not backing down, though, insisting he deserves it anyway. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Updated: April 26, 2014 6:27AM
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is ruling out campaigning for longshot GOP Illinois U.S. Senate nominee Jim Oberweis, saying Monday he would rather “protect” his relationship with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and not launch a “partisan jihad.”
Kirk and Durbin are a very rare couple in Washington. They get along, even when they disagree. They grew closer after Kirk suffered a severe stroke, keeping him away from the Capitol for almost a year.
As a result, the two have forged for now an informal, unspoken, non-aggression pact.
Kirk’s more-than-kind words for Durbin will be very useful to Durbin in his race against Oberweis — where Durbin is the front-runner. A mutual disarming is potentially vastly more beneficial to Kirk, who already has said he will run for another term in 2016 and could potentially face a Democrat with some juice.
Durbin aside, it helps Kirk, a social moderate, who supports gay marriage, abortion rights and comprehensive immigration reform, to disassociate himself from Oberweis, who is opposite him on the very issues that may appeal to the swing independent suburban voters, especially suburban women who Kirk has cultivated throughout his congressional career.
Kirk commented after I asked him and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas — they were together in Chicago on Monday — if they would be seeing or campaigning for Oberweis.
“I’m going to be protecting my relationship with Dick and not launching into a partisan jihad that hurts our partnership to both pull together for Illinois,” Kirk replied.
Cornyn, a former chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the Senate Republican political operation — sidestepped a question about helping raise money for Oberweis.
“The reason I am here is for my own re-election, so I’m not getting involved in the Illinois Senate race at this time,” Cornyn said.
Given the slap, Oberweis, a state senator, was gracious in his statement.
“I agree with Sen. Kirk that no political campaign should be waged as if it were a holy war, and the I have every intention of conducting an issue-oriented competition for the support of Illinois voters. I respect Sen. Kirk’s goal of maintaining a respectful relationship with his Democratic colleagues in Washington, just as I do in Springfield. I would never ask Sen. Kirk to do anything to endanger his personal or professional relationship with Sen. Durbin,” Oberweis said.
“My understanding is that Sen. Kirk is supportive of the efforts of each of the statewide Republican nominees in Illinois this year, just as the Illinois Republican Party has supported Sen. Kirk in each of his general election contests. I look forward to serving with Mark in the United State Senate come January 2015.”
With politics so bitter in the Capitol and the partisan divide often so wide, voters like pols who can work together. Last Nov. 7 at an Illinois “coffee” in Washington hosted by Durbin and Kirk, a man in the audience said he appreciated their cooperation.
Said Durbin, “This makes this job so much better when the two of us get along.” And after Kirk returned to the Capitol, Durbin said, “Our relationship politically and even personally has been better, and I think it is good for Illinois, and I want it to continue.”