Yesterday, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza caused a bit of a stir when he published excerpts from a memo that Mark Kirk's senate campaign had sent to Republican leader Fred Malek, asking him to assist with putting the Illinois Senate race on the radar of former Vice-Presidential candidate and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. Cillizza characterized the memo as seeking Palin's "endorsement," however, Kirk's team responded that the memo was part of a packet given to Palin seeking positive comments in anticipation of Palin's upcoming appearance on Oprah. I've not been able to find a copy of the actual memo itself anywhere, but here's what the Tribune reported:
"The Chicago media will focus on one key issue: Does Gov. Palin oppose Congressman Mark Kirk's bid to take the Obama Senate seat for the Republicans," states the memo to GOP power broker Fred Malek.
"Voters in Illinois have a key opportunity to take Barack Obama's senate seat. Congressman Kirk is the lead candidate to do that," the memo continues, pointing out the five-term North Shore congressman's various votes and issue positions.
Kirk campaign spokesman Eric Elk said the memo was part of a briefing given to Palin's team.
"The memo was like many others regularly prepared for high-profile visitors, pundits and media," Elk said in a statement. "The briefing provided details on the race and only requested supportive comments."
Not having seen the memo, I can't say with 100% certainty that the word "endorsement" was never used, but I've not seen anything that indicates it was, and it appears that this story grew out of the characterization made by Cillizza.
The Dems, and certain of the news media, pounced on Cillizza's post like a cat on a mouse, seeking to capitalize on what they characterized as a glaring disparity between Kirk's moderate persona and his 'pandering' (yes, they used that word) to the conservative Palin, and tried to tie it in to the recent NY-23 race and conservative activism across the country. Critics also pointed to Kirk's lukewarm (at best) comments on Palin when she was chosen by John McCain as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. Huffpo, Talking Points Memo, Progress Illinois and other reliable Dem-boosters all had highly critical posts up within hours, and the major Dem candidates all sent out statements. Even the usually more objective Capital Fox Blog carried no less than seven updates on the story and you would have thought the sky was falling.
This all goes to show that Kirk and his team are under a microscope, with hordes of Dem operatives and sympathizers ready to rain down upon the congressman at the slightest sign of any chink in Kirk's armor. The Dems are scared, and with good reason. Current polls show Kirk essentially tied with the Dem front runner, Alexi Giannoulias, and this is a blue state, and the race is for Barack Obama's old senate seat. The fact that Kirk remains well within striking distance has got the Dems pulling out everything they have to derail the Kirk train before it picks up enough speed to run right over little Alexi.
Well, for the people who are paying attention now (and that universe may not be much, yet), I'd advise you to take everything you hear in the media with some skepticism, before making your own judgments. To me, the "Palin" story seems blown way out of proportion, so we'll see what develops on this we the campaign goes forward. But if the best glove Alexi can lay on Kirk is that he wanted Sarah Palin to throw some love his way, that isn't going to make Alexi the next U.S. Senator from Illinois.
UPDATED 11:30 a.m. Please Move Along, There's No Story Here, Apparently: Well, well, looky here. Turns out, now that Rich Miller at Capitol Fax Blog got a hold of the entire 'Palin' memo, it appears that my surmise above (that the word endorsement was not referenced anywhere in the 'Palin' memo) was correct. Miller characterizes Cillizza as "bumbling" this one and walks back Miller's wholehearted glomming on to the misleading story posted by Cillizza before checking it out. Well, in this day of pressure to be #1 with the next story, that happens to all of us. Needless to say, Cillizza is now on Miller's s*it list (probably not to mention Eric Elk's!). Miller still thinks Kirk was needlessly pandering to Palin and questions whether Kirk has an identity crisis of sorts, but whatever.