Endorsement: Mark Kirk over Tammy Duckworth for Senate
On Jan. 21, 2012, Mark Kirk was a remarkably fit 52-year-old at the height of his powers and success, an energetic U.S. senator back home in Chicago's suburbs prior to that year's State of the Union address.
Then, on that subfreezing Saturday night, a debilitating ischemic stroke took him to death's door.
When he awoke dreamlike in the hospital, he told the Daily Herald's Kerry Lester a year later, he sensed angels asking "You want to come with us?"
"No," he told them in a reverie hard to interpret. "I'll hold off."
A week ago, when he spoke to our editorial board to make his case for re-election, the subject of his stroke came up during the questioning, but the Highland Park Republican did not introduce it, did nothing to dab at what sympathies we or the electorate might feel.
But let us dab for him.
While listening to him, we could not help but reflect on how in an instant Mark Kirk's world changed forever, on how low this athletic man was brought physically by the unexpected vagaries of life.
We could not help but think there are two stories of heroism in this year's Senate race, not just one.
Everyone knows of Tammy Duckworth's heroism. It is an inspirational tale of a wounded war veteran who deserves nothing but our nation's praise and thanks. Like Kirk, the Hoffman Estates Democrat's life too was changed in an instant, only in battle.
But the context of his disability makes Kirk no less a hero and no less courageous. His relentless struggle to recover, his lack of self-pity, his positive approach -- these are attributes that have failed to receive the attention they merit.
"You don't give up," he says in describing political challenges, but the philosophy aptly describes Kirk as a person as well. The same could be said, of course, about Duckworth.
Which brings us to the sad irony of this race.
Much has been made in talk of this year's elections about what a disappointing choice voters have in the presidential race, two flawed candidates followed by two hapless third-party candidates trailing after them.
But not enough has been said about what an enviable choice Illinois voters have in this Senate race. Sen. Kirk and Rep. Duckworth are both good people, heroes in their own rights, experienced and knowledgeable public servants.
We like them both. The only sad part of the Senate race is that one of them has to lose. Well, that and how distressingly negative the campaign has become. The negativity is unworthy of two such fine people.
Our endorsement goes to Kirk.
Here is an important truth: The courage he has shown in confronting his disability is the same courage he exhibits as a public servant.
While many Republican candidates danced around the Donald Trump dilemma, Kirk addressed it unafraid and without equivocation. It is characteristic of his willingness to take clear and forceful positions on issues, even when they may be unpopular. He doesn't waver in ambiguity. He takes political risks we wish others, both Republicans and Democrats, would have the strength and integrity to take.
His intellect is as strong as ever. His willingness to cross the aisle or to break when necessary with his party may be even stronger than it had been in the past.
Kirk is an independent and moderate Republican in a Senate that does not have enough of them.
His vote would be a thoughtful check on a likely Hillary Clinton presidency.
For six years, Kirk has given all his devotion to the people of Illinois. We owe him and ourselves six years more.