While Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk remains steadfast in his refusal to publicly back any of the GOP presidential hopefuls, he's not taking the same tact when it comes to local politics.
The state's junior senator appeared at a Wheeling Township GOP rally Saturday morning in an effort to bolster the profile of area incumbents and a few GOP challengers.
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Kirk said he hoped Illinois voters would turn on President Barack Obama at the ballot box in November 2012 the way Tennessee voters did to native son Al Gore in 2000.
"My greatest hope is that maybe the president will lose his home state," he said to a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 100 GOP faithful at party headquarters in Arlington Heights. "And we need a new state legislature too."
Jonathan Greenberg is hoping to be part of the latter. The Northbrook resident, who calls himself a "Mark Kirk Republican," left his job this week with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to launch a challenge against incumbent Northbrook Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz in 2012.
"I'm a big Mark Kirk fan," Greenberg said. "Moderate and independent, he and I see the world very similarly. My family and I are taking huge risk to do this, but all I see are taxes going up."
Kirk touched on a variety topics during a 15-minute speech Saturday morning, including Obama's jobs speech earlier this week and a statewide GOP presidential straw poll he is organizing with state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady.
Kirk said agrees with the president about halting regulations and creating free-trade agreements. However, he has concerns about the president's spending plans.
"I tried to be optimistic," Kirk said. "The bad stuff, the stuff I'm concerned about, is spending. I don't think in this recession we can continue to sock it to the people of Illinois."
Those in attendance liked what the senator had to say.
"The failure of Obama's policies and restrictions on business are hurting this country," said Gary Hesse, a Buffalo Grove resident. "This guy is ignoring the principles that get an economy going again."
Kirk said the straw poll will be held Nov. 5, a year ahead of the actual presidential election and four months ahead of the Illinois primary in March. Republican voters can pay $5 to cast a ballot and the results will be announced by conservative commentator Sean Hannity. The money will go to support Republican candidates.
After his speech, Kirk called the field of GOP contenders "undefined," but rated the front-runners as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.