North Shore congressman Mark Kirk's ugly transformation from swing district moderate to red-meat conservative is complete: He's seeking Sarah Palin's endorsement in the race for Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
To make matters worse, Kirk first denied doing any such thing, only to be tripped up by a memo obtained by the media.
And to think Time magazine just named Kirk in a story called The Rebirth of the Republican Middle.
That's the old (likable) Mark Kirk. The new (unlikable) Mark Kirk might as well have tea bags dangling off his belt.
What's puzzling about Kirk's hard turn to the right is that he's not facing a credible primary challenge from that direction - unless his internal polling shows something no one else has figured out.
Kirk must be gambling on some sort of off-year anti-Obama turnout strategy because his former moderate stance combined with foreign policy and military smarts and the bearing of the (reserve) naval intelligence officer that he is would seem to be a strong mix in a blue state like Illinois; his theoretical appeal to both suburban and downstate voters would have seemed to give him a fighting chance against whoever emerges from a surprisingly weak Democratic field.
His media strategy ain't so hot, either.
With Palin swinging through town to appear on Oprah, the Kirk campaign sent a solicitation memo arguing that "the Chicago media will focus on one key issue: Does Gov[ernor] Palin oppose Congressman Mark Kirk's bid to take the Obama Senate seat for the Republicans?"
Huh? The Chicago media probably never would have thought to ask.
And now Kirk faces a backlash - from both the Democratic candidates who couldn't get their statements out fast enough (nor with enough glee at the gift Kirk handed them) and from the media itself, with whom Kirk is losing credibility.
The Sun-Times's Lynn Sweet reports that Kirk at first dodged questions about asking for Palin's endorsement, and has in fact been trying to run a shadow campaign under the media's radar.
That's not going rogue, that's going undercover. And that's pretty hard to do when you're running for U.S. Senate and you want your party's most famous former vice presidential nominee to help.
Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.