Illinois' Senate primaries crucial to each side

  • Mark Kirk, left, and James Marter are Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

    Mark Kirk, left, and James Marter are Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

  • From left, Tammy Duckworth, Napoleon Harris and Andrea Zopp are Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. Mark Kirk and James Marter are Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

    From left, Tammy Duckworth, Napoleon Harris and Andrea Zopp are Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. Mark Kirk and James Marter are Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

 
 
Updated 3/14/2016 9:14 PM

Joining presidential candidates at the top of Tuesday's ballots is a statewide primary battle for the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park is asking voters for a second six-year term following a decade as a congressman from the North suburbs.

 

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, former prosecutor and Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp of Chicago and state Sen. Napoleon Harris of Harvey are asking Democratic voters for the nomination on their side.

Kirk's first Senate term was marked by his suffering a serious stroke in early 2012, about a year after he was sworn in.

Now, he's facing a Republican primary challenge from James Marter of Oswego, an information technology consultant who has tried to run as a more conservative alternative to Kirk.

Kirk has the backing of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and other top officials. He has tried to emphasize his foreign policy positions, such as calling for the U.S. to stop accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris.

"That's been his strong suit since he's been in the Senate," former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, of St. Charles, said earlier in the campaign.

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Marter has won the backing of some local party groups and officials but hasn't had the campaign cash to advertise and introduce himself to the voters. He has criticized Kirk for not agreeing to debate him.

He's also challenged Kirk for saying the Senate should at least consider an Obama appointee to replace former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and his bid comes as conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and anti-establishment Donald Trump lead the GOP race for president. It's possible that sentiment could give him a boost. "I'm the only Republican in this race," Marter said.

Duckworth is a second-term member of Congress who rose to local political prominence while losing a 2006 House campaign when voters were introduced to her story of losing her legs in Iraq.

The former Black Hawk helicopter pilot has sought to highlight that background in her race against Zopp and Harris.

Zopp, though, has been critical of Duckworth's time in Congress, working to label her as an insider who hasn't accomplished much.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While Duckworth has won the backing of much of the Democratic Party's top leaders, Zopp has had high-profile friends in the race, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to an initial push from former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

She's a former prosecutor who also worked as a business executive at Sears Holdings Corp. and elsewhere.

Harris is a former NFL player who now serves as a state senator. He says that legislative experience is a big asset.

Both parties' primaries are likely to be heavily watched from Washington, D.C., where leaders on both sides see Illinois an important Senate battleground in November.

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