Mark Kirk became a public figure again this week.
Kirk thought he had this Senate race wired. He was going to cruise to victory on Alexi Giannoulias’s record as a loan officer at a failed bank. The gentleman from Illinois gave few interviews, responded to press inquiries with one-sentence banalities, and didn’t bother to tell reporters where he was campaigning.
Illinoisans didn’t need to know about Mark Kirk. To choose the right candidate for Senate, all they needed know was that he was running against “a failed banker who made loans to organized crime, wiped out college savings for Illinois kids and pushed risky banking schemes that cost the FDIC more than $390 million,” to quote a typical Kirk press release.
But now Kirk has been forced to grovel before the same journalists he once ignored. In a conference room at the Chicago Sun-Times offices, he meekly confessed to “misremembering” little details of his military service, such as whether he was in actually Iraq during the war, and whether the Serbs actually shot at his plane.
Is Giannoulias going to win votes from Kirk’s “misremembering”? Maybe not. To benefit from an unethical opponent, it helps to look ethical yourself. And Kirk has done an effective job linking Giannoulias to such evildoers as Tony Rezko, Michael “Jaws” Giorango and the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. The prize for “Most Honest Candidate” will not be awarded this year. These guys are now vying for “The Rufus L. Equivocator Award for Least Dishonest Politician.”
Over at the Tribune, John Kass writes that Kirk’s military embellishments “let Alexi Giannoulias sail right back into the campaign.” Actually, they forced Kirk back into the campaign. If Kirk wants to be a senator, he’s going to have to work for it now. And he’s going to have come up with a better platform than “I’m not a Greek banker.”
It’s not good to have two tainted Senate candidates. But it is good to have two candidates actually running for office. Now that Kirk has been dragged down to Giannoulias’s level, he may have to stop basing his campaign on character assassination and engage his opponent on the issues. That’ll be good for Illinois, too.