On FrumForum today, writer Jeb Golinkin describes Senate candidate Mark Kirk’s opposition to the transferring of Gitmo prisoners to Thomson Illinois Correctional Facility as “hard line.” While the Chicago media have voiced objections to Kirk’s position, using his stance on detainee transfers to indicate that he is pandering to a narrow right-wing base may not be appropriate in this instance.
A poll cited in the Chicago Sun-Times (albeit from the Illinois GOP) indicated that the Illinois voters object to the transfer of detainees to Illinois with 57% saying it was a “bad idea”, and only 32% supporting the plan. A plurality of self-identified Democrats also opposed the plan.
Voters may change their mind on this detainee issue, but the question over whether the relatively moderate Congressman Kirk is feeling pressured to move to the right in order to secure the party nomination is worth considering. Media have cited his stated switch on Cap and Trade, support for the Stupak Amendment banning federal funds for abortion, as well as the prison issue as examples of this trend. Kirk’s primary opponent, candidate Patrick Hughes, compares himself to Marco Rubio of Florida — who is challenging the more moderate Charlie Crist for Senate. It seems that the Kirk/Hughes situation is entirely different from Crist/Rubio for the following reasons:
1.) The Illinois primary is on February 2nd, in Florida the primary is in August. Thus, Kirk can likely afford to run out the clock while Crist has a long battle ahead of him.
2.) Rubio has been the darling of national conservatives, already endorsed by Jim DeMint and his PAC, as well as Club for Growth. Rubio will also be keynoting at CPAC in February, 2010. Illinois underdog Hughes has reached out to DeMint and Club for Growth, but has yet to secure endorsements.
3.) Rubio has raised over $1 million, Hughes has very little money.
4.) Rubio is within ten points in some polls, polls have shown that Hughes is pretty much a no-hoper.
5.) Florida is traditionally much more conservative than Illinois — the seat Kirk and Hughes are fighting to take is the Barack/Burris seat. In Florida, the GOP are playing defense on a retiring Republican senator, and Florida went for Bush in 2004. Thus running a conservative candidate in Florida seems much more realistic.
For these reasons (timing, money, polling, electability) it doesn’t seem that Kirk should feel that much pressure to move right before the primary. Conservatives may wish the primary was moved back to August so to pressure him, but it seems likely that the final Republican challenger for the Obama/Blago/Burris seat will be a slightly center-right Kirk in what is one of the bluest states in America.
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