Few political clichés are as true as the one that says the time to start looking at the next election campaign is the day after the last one ended.
And so it is for Illinois’ junior Senator, Mark Kirk. Just days after Democrats took a beating in the 2014 midterm elections and lost the Illinois governor seat to Republican Bruce Rauner, political observers and campaign operatives are starting to focus their attention on the 2016 presidential cycle.
And, for Illinois, the top of their agenda may well include Kirk.
The Republican, elected to his first term in 2010, has already suffered the indignity of hearing First Lady Michelle Obama’s name floated as a possible contender for his Senate seat, a rumor that flared up back in September. Worse, some early polling showed Obama leading Kirk 51 percent to 40 percent in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.
Health issues have also weakened the viability of Kirk’s political future, especially after he suffered a stroke in 2012. While Kirk has gone to great lengths to demonstrate a successful recovery, political reality is often cruel to those politicians who suffer the indignity of a life-altering event.
But now the talk is whether Kirk can survive a challenge in 2016. Nationally, there’s some question over whether Republicans can hold on to their newly-won Senate majority in what will be seen as a much more favorable 2016 landscape for Democrats. Kirk has said he will run for another term, and recently showcased his political coattails by showing strong support for fellow Republican Bob Dold in Illinois 10th Congressional District.
Still, the list of Democrats who would love to take a shot at a Senate seat is filled with well-known names in Illinois politics. From Attorney General Lisa Madigan to
U.S representative Bill Foster, state senator Kwame Raoul, and others.
There’s also always the possibility that Kirk could see a primary challenger from his own party, particularly from a more conservative candidate seeking to contrast his or her positions against the more moderate Kirk’s record.
As a result, Kirk’s seat is already the center of attention for 2016, and speculation over his plans is only likely to grow. One scenario has Kirk stepping down to hand-pick a successor, thereby increasing the chances of keeping the seat in Republican hands.
The fact that Kirk’s longtime Illinois chief of staff is moving to the private sector and his field operations manager is taking a position with the Rauner team may not be helping to tamp down the speculation.
Politics is a cruel mistress, they say, and it may not seem fair that Kirk’s seat is already seen as in play, mere days after one of the most hard-fought and extended political campaigns in Illinois history.
Yet, if there’s one thing you can count on in politics, it’s that someone is always looking towards the next race. In Kirk’s case, it looks like a lot people are already thinking about the future.