Kirk, Duckworth meet for first televised Senate debate

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth are facing off in their first televised debate Thursday in what's considered a crucial race that could determine which party controls the Senate.

The first-term senator from Highland Park is seen as one of the Senate's most vulnerable Republican incumbents and Democrats consider Duckworth's success on Election Day one of the keys to reclaiming a majority in the chamber.

Duckworth has a comfortable lead in the most recent polls but Kirk says the race is closer than people think.

The evening debate in an auditorium at the University of Illinois in Springfield will give the candidates a chance to make one of their final pitches to voters before Nov. 8. Kirk and Duckworth have debated before, but the event in Springfield gives them an opportunity to reach more voters. The debate will be televised on ABC Newschannel 20.

Duckworth and Kirk know the stakes are high. Theirs is among a handful of competitive Senate races the parties are depending on to decide control of the chamber next year.

Both candidates received high-profile endorsement in the final weeks of their campaign. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised Kirk as an independent voice in the Senate and said his victory is important to help the GOP control the chamber and "keep America from going off the rails."

Kirk has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy and has called for the Senate to hold hearings on President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court.

This month, Obama appeared at a fundraiser for Duckworth and recorded a radio ad noting how she worked through college with the help of loans and grants and highlighting her father's job as a factory worker. Obama says in the ad that Duckworth has "walked in our shoes."

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2014, file photo, Illinois Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, appears in Springfield, Ill. Illinois was once billed as one of November's most competitive U.S. Senate races. Democrats are now counting on U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth to defeat Illinois Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk as the party looks to reclaim the majority in the chamber, but Kirk warns that counting him out would be a mistake. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File) The Associated Press
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