Top GOP donor backs off comments asking Kirk to leave Senate race

A Republican fundraiser and failed candidate for governor withdrew a comment to Crain's Chicago Business that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk should abandon his 2016 re-election because he could "cause collateral damage" to other GOP candidates, the newspaper reported.

Former Helene Curtis executive Ron Gidwitz made the comments about Kirk's recent well-publicized verbal gaffes, calling for Illinois Republicans to find a new candidate.

But he later asked they be retracted, Crain's reported Tuesday. And Kirk's campaign says Gidwitz fully supports the Highland Park Republican.

"Mark and Ron have had a strained relationship for years. Ron's initial comments and subsequent retraction don't surprise us at all," Kirk campaign spokesman Kevin Artl said.

Kirk faced national scrutiny in recent months after a hot microphone picked up the senator calling presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham a "bro with no ho" and after he said on the radio President Barack Obama wanted to "get nukes to Iran."

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider of Bartlett was quick to back Kirk.

"Sen. Mark Kirk has my unwavering support," Schneider said in a statement. "His record of independent leadership is exactly what Illinois needs."

Gidwitz ran in the primary for Illinois governor in 2006 and was an early backer from the business world of Gov. Bruce Rauner's 2014 campaign.

National Republicans said they're not looking for a new candidate.

"We are 100 percent behind Sen. Kirk and look forward to highlighting Tammy Duckworth's power hungry partisan record that will be unacceptable to Illinois families," National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker said.

Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, is vying for a chance to take on Kirk in next year's election. Former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp has entered the Democratic primary race, too.

Kirk is looking for a second term in the Senate after serving 10 years in Congress from the northern suburbs. He suffered a serious stroke in early 2012 and returned to the Capitol the next year.

National observers have called Illinois' Senate race one of the tops in the country in 2016 as Democrats try to narrow Republicans' grasp on Congress.

Kirk in 2010 overcame Illinois' Democratic tendencies to win statewide, and he'd have to do that again in 2016 to win in a presidential year when turnout will be higher.

Kirk hasn't wavered in his pursuit of re-election despite his stroke recover.

"No frickin' way am I going to retire," he told the Daily Herald last year.

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Sen. Mark Kirk is seeking re-election next year. Daily Herald File Photo, 2012
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