Instead of spending Memorial Day weekend somberly observing the sacrifices of servicemen, Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias bickered over the vicissitudes of Kirk's Navy Reserves service record.
On Saturday, the Washington Post published an article revealing that Kirk, a distinguished reservist who's very vocal about his service, had "misidentified" (Kirk's word) the title of an award. According to the Post, Kirk did not personally receive an award for "Intelligence Officer of the Year." Instead, Kirk's unit had actually received the Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award.
Kirk had "misstated" the award name for the last 8 years, most notably in a speech recorded by C-SPAN in 2002 (HuffPo dug up a similar video from '03). Kirk said it was a honest mistake, though it was apparently made honestly for nearly a decade. That was revelation one, and symbolically it was torturous: Kirk, the vet, embarrassed on Memorial Day weekend.
But the second revelation in the article has turned out to be more newsy: that the Post had been tipped off to the inaccuracy by the Giannoulias campaign. This, of course, was the Post protecting itself from charges that the publication was being used as a proxy in a parsimonious campaign. But it also gave Kirk a springboard to retort.
By the time the article was published, Kirk's campaign had already changed the award title on its campaign site and Kirk's online House bio (the Post article implied the paper had been inquiring with his campaign all week). And within hours, the campaign emailed a response entitled "Desperate," which was notable less for its forward-looking contrition (there was none) and more for attacking Giannoulias as a "failed mob banker" who was so desperate he'd impugn the reputation of a veteran.
This was smart politics, where the school of thought goes "never give up momentum." Concentrating on Giannoulias' role in the revelation plays well with the anti-liberal media crowd (who presumably support Kirk) and Kirk's conservative base.
But it was also lazy rhetoric: "Failed mob banker" is an exaggeration of the same magnitude as that which Kirk is accusing Giannoulias of perpetrating on the Post. Kirk was decrying his opponents tactics while being tactless.
The "Desperate" email went on to take issue with the Post's reporting, but not the basic headline fact. Instead, the email said the article "inaccurately portrays" Kirk as just one intelligence officer attached to a Navy squadron and implied the Rufus award was non-Navy. Which is sort of like saying "yeah I misspoke but you corrected me with bad grammar."
At the end of the day, Kirk is a decorated Navy reservist (four if you count this slip-up). But this is also the third time he's been caught embellishing.
Kirk had an opportunity to issue a mea culpa and take momentum back by elevating the debate. Instead he's using the Richard Blumenthal tactic of pridefully stonewalling.
Blumenthal's still ahead in the polls, but he had a huge lead. Kirk is up by eight points, for now.