Despite a positive outlook, Illinois' Dick Durbin—the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate—is not resting on his laurels in an election-season battle against Republican challenger Jim Oberweis.
Two words: Eric. Cantor.
Referencing the former Republican House Majority Leader's stunning and unprecedented primary loss to economics professor Dave Brat, Durbin tells The Associated Press: "I get up every morning, I open my eyes, I say 'Eric Cantor' and I jump out of bed."
"(Voters) are upset with all of us in public life and political life," he observes of Americans' low opinion of Congress. "It's a wakeup call for all of us."
Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip, has crusaded in recent weeks to prevent an exodus of corporations departing Illinois for greener tax pastures as part of a controversial business practice known as a corporate inversion, declaring last week: "Let's call corporate inverters what they really are: corporate deserters."
The politician, who's seeking to bar these so-called deserters from obtaining federal contracts, defends his combative stance in an interview with the AP, saying: "I think it's my job. If an Illinois senator won't stand up to keep companies in this state and in this country he's got the backbone of a melting ice cream cone."
That's a dig against Oberweis. The GOP state senator, a Sugar Grove dairy mogul known for his local ice cream business, accused Durbin of "bullying" Walgreen Co. into keeping its headquarters in north suburban Deerfield as it mulled a potential move overseas.
"His bullying of Walgreens was a political stunt designed to help only one person: Dick Durbin," sniped Oberweis last August. "It didn't create any jobs. It didn't reform our job-killing tax code."
Other critics have emerged to pan Durbin's corporate mudslinging, with Crain's Chicago Business columnist Joe Cahill writing Monday that Durbin may be hurting more than he is helping. Quoth Cahill: "I understand the political calculations that motivate Mr. Durbin. And he has legitimate arguments against corporate inversions. But I wish he would think about the collateral damage of his rhetorical firebombs. Illinois already suffers from an undeserved reputation as a lousy place to do business. Mr. Durbin's language gives people another reason to believe that businesses are unwelcome here."
Meanwhile, Durbin—who's also campaigning on a pledge to raise the minimum wage—says he thinks Democrats will manage to stave off a GOP take-over and hold onto the Senate in November's midterms. (At the moment, the New York Times is predicting a 51 percent Republican majority win.)
Buoyed by incumbency advantage and a strong voter following in Democratic Chicago, Durbin out-polled Oberweis by 23 percentage points in a Chicago Tribune survey released Monday. Last week, Oberweis' campaign was dealt a blow when Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a member of the Republican Senatorial Committee, which offers election-season support to candidates, said Oberweis' campaign wasn't a priority for the party.