Dec. 3, 2015 — Sen. Mark Kirk (R) just launched a major media attack against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), this one regarding the Syrian refugee issue. The ad (above) is telling because it provides us a glimpse into the Kirk campaign research and strategy.
Targeting the congresswoman now conveys the assumption that Rep. Duckworth will win the Democratic nomination on March 15. This is a rather obvious conclusion due to her perceived political strength and because her two primary opponents, though potentially formidable under different circumstances, both occupy the same demographic and geographic segments. State Sen. Napoleon Harris and Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp are each African American and hail from the state’s largest city.
A split within these combined voting segments makes it more likely that Duckworth will be nominated, even if she needed the help. Ironically, attacking the congresswoman early will likely strengthen her standing among the most loyal of Democratic voters. Seeing a Republican incumbent isolate an opponent so early will communicate the message that this is the candidate he most fears.
Additionally, moving quickly against Duckworth tells us that Kirk’s internal polling is producing similar results to past public surveys that give the Chicago suburban representative a slight lead in preliminary general election ballot tests involving she and the senator.
The ad text, talking about how the terrorists responsible for the massacre in France came into the country as Syrian refugees and that the United States is vulnerable to a similar threat, obviously plays well for Kirk according to his internal polling.
The line that Kirk “opposes more Syrian refugees until it can be done safely” tells us his survey research detects that such a position, even though communicated in a grammatically inconsistent manner, is where the preponderance of Illinois voters stand. The fact that he would launch the attack now reveals that his campaign strategists find this as an important wedge issue that allows the Senator to create a contrast between he and his likely opponent.
Democrats announced a challenger for freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) on Monday, and it’s a person who likely pleases Republicans. LuAnn Bennett, an ex-wife of former 8th District Congressman Jim Moran (D-Alexandria), says she will challenge Comstock in a district that could certainly be in play during a presidential election year. Recruiting such an individual, however, signals that the Democrats don’t regard this impending race as one of their major targets.
Bennett has not been particularly active in Democratic politics, has never before run for office, and was certainly not a support factor in the 2015 state and local elections for other party candidates. Her association with ex-Rep. Moran, who attracted negative publicity for several domestic disturbances during his public life, isn’t exactly the type of early publicity an underdog challenger needs when facing a strong incumbent who already commands more than $1 million in her campaign coffers.
While the Northern Virginia district dropped to just a one point margin for Mitt Romney over President Obama in 2012, Comstock was able to rack up a 56-40 percent win against Fairfax County Supervisor John Faust (D), well exceeding expectations. In fact, her first-time victory margin was in the realm of her predecessor’s past performances, 34-year congressional veteran Frank Wolf (R).
Bennett may yet prove to be a viable Democratic candidate but, at first glance, it appears she will have a long, hard climb even to be considered part of the national top tier. The Democrats’ recruiting performance in this situation provides one more bit of evidence that they have no realistic chance of wresting the House majority away from their Republican counterparts in 2016 despite what should be, for them, a favorable turnout model.