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Kirk's "High Wire" Act

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Kirk's "High Wire" Act
Mark Kirk
Kirk's "High Wire" Act

Mark Kirk | Senator:
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The Illinois-based, right-leaning website Real Clear Politics has a flattering profile of Sen. Mark Kirk, portraying him as a moderate Republican working hard not to be dragged toward the right wing of his Tea Party-dominated caucus.

The article even calls him a Rockefeller Republican, saying “his views are reminiscent of an erstwhile Illinois, back in the days when it was better known as the Land of Lincoln and not Obama Country -- a state that voted Republican in all but two presidential elections between 1952 and 1988.”

As a congressman, Kirk was a member of the Tuesday Group, a middle-of-the-road caucus that included less than a fifth of House Republicans. As a Red Senator from a Blue State, he’s become close friends with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, a Blue Senator from a Red State. Manchin tried bringing Kirk to a Democratic budget meeting. The Republican was quickly expelled, but not before making a statement against partisanship.

Disillusioned with the Senate’s partisan social cleavage, both starry-eyed newcomers set out to fix things. “Follow me,” the freewheeling Mountaineer said to Kirk one day in early May, “I’m heading to a budget meeting and we need to shake things up.”
Kirk was hesitant, suspecting that his presence might inflame most everyone at the Democratic strategy session. But Manchin insisted.
“Well OK,” Kirk said. “You’re my buddy.”
So off they went, sitting side-by-side in the meeting for what became five increasingly uncomfortable minutes. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, grew unamused with their shenanigans.
“This caucus is for Democrats only,” the visibly miffed North Dakotan told Kirk.
Thanking Manchin for the invite, Kirk stood up, gave a brief but preachy speech about the importance of bipartisanship in these dire times, and bolted from the tension-filled room as he returned smiles with his smirking accomplice.
“Some of the Democrats in there were mad, but the senior members seemed more embarrassed than anything else,” Kirk recalled. “They remember older times when we weren’t so divided.”

The article details more of his bipartisan efforts -- setting up lunches with Democratic colleagues, sponsoring an anti-corruption bill with Rep. Mike Quigley -- but also includes praise from an Illinois Tea Partier, who calls Kirk “fairly dependable.”

That sums up what the article says is Kirk’s challenge as a moderate Republican: “a high-wire act in which he must satisfy voters in traditionally blue Illinois as the tea party continues to hold considerable clout with Republicans.”

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