Congressman Mark Kirk, who is running for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by disgraced former governor Blagojevich's appointee, Roland Burris, looks to be an easy win for the upcoming primary election on February 2nd. He's crushing his more conservative GOP opponents in fundraising, and according to the latest polling, enjoys a commanding lead over his nearest competitors, and is snapping up endorsements from all the major papers like the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald and others. In fact, the papers are consistent in their opinions that deem Kirk the "obvious choice" if Republicans want to gain this seat back, which they have not held since Peter Fitzgerald defeated Carol Moseley Braun in 1998.
However, a fair portion of likely GOP primary voters are dissatisifed with Kirk, claiming that he is too liberal for their tastes. Based on comments here and elsewhere in the blogosphere, some of these conservative Republicans vow that not only will they not vote to support Kirk in the primary (regardless of whether he is the only GOP candidate with a realistic chance to prevail in the general election), they will not vote for him in the general election, which, considering the prospect of ushering in the Dem nominee (likely Alexi Giannoulias, who will be guaranteed to support all of Obama's policies and none of the GOP's) as a result of withholding their support, seems to make little sense.
But these are the folks that seem to place ideals of party purity above all else, even winning elections.
It's this crowd that GOP contender Patrick Hughes tries to cater to as he criss-crosses the state, claiming that this Senate race is a battle for the 'soul' of the Republican party, notwithstanding the fact that he's raised little money, and no one (except Pat) seems to suggest that even if he won the primary, he'd have any chance against the Dems in the general. Pat's been looking desperately to national conservative groups for support, hoping that his message of unyeilding Republican principles will reasonate with the folks who have money to throw his way, like Senator Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund.
But a funny thing happened on the road to ideological purity. Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator in Massachusetts, now seems to be well-positioned to upset his Democratic opponent, MA Attorney General Martha Coakley. In fact, the liberals are so panicked that they may lose their 60-vote filibuster-proof majority and skew the path to their draconian vision of healthcare reform, perhaps irreparably, President Obama himself is parachuting in over the weekend to try to save what should have been a safe seat for the Dems after the death of Ted Kennedy left it vacant--to say nothing of the damage to the Obama brand if this seat should be lost.
Brown has became a cause célèbre among even the Tea Party crowd, which includes many folks who like to consider themselves the most conservative of the conservatives, but who are hungry for victory against Obama's radical agenda. In fact, even Senator DeMint has taken up Brown's cause on his Senate Conservative Fund website (though he's not endorsed Hughes, tellingly). But the interesting thing about this phenomenon is that Brown is not, in fact, particularly conservative (and certainly not a Tea Partier), at least, not compared to pols in the rest of the nation (Massachusetts being a very liberal state, where even the few conservatives in the state legislature might seem liberal to many).
University of Chicago Professor Boris Shor even suggests that, based on his voting record research, Brown is less conservative that Dede Scozzafava, who was excoriated in the NY-23 special election for not being 'conservative enough'). The explanation for this seems simple enough for Professor Shor:
Of course, while the Republicans [in Massachusetts] are liberal, Democrats are incredibly liberal. In comparison to them, Brown is a conservative. He was also the most conservative of the tiny handful of Republican State Senators. [snip]
It makes perfect sense that Scott Brown, a liberal Massachusetts Republican, has attracted Republican and conservative support. He’s perfectly suited for his liberal state electorate. Dede Scozzafava, in fact considerably more conservative than Scott Brown was not nearly so well matched to her intended constituency, the relatively conservative 23rd District that had returned moderate conservative John McHugh since the 1992 election.
What this shows, however, is that the conservative base in the United States, far from dragging their party moblike into an unelectable extreme, has made the decentralized decision to support the realistically best candidate they can relative to the context in which he’s being elected.
Even Senator Jim DeMint (who if Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is 99% conservative, DeMint is 110% conservative) has decided that due to the critical fact that a Brown victory would be a guaranteed vote against ObamaCare, he is supporting Brown (even though he admits that a formal endorsement of the SCF is not possible since Brown does not meet their conservative criteria).
Thus, it seems that even the ideological purists have decided that when pragmatism and the goal of actually having an impact on a national issue like healthcare is at stake, they may be willing to overlook issues such as being pro-choice, as Brown is. While this might seem like an obvious point to many of us, it's likely not a position that many conservatives came to easily. But the fact that they did so in Brown's case gives us hope in IL-10 that the conservatives will yet rally around Congressman Kirk as the best real chance to win this Senate seat for Republicans.
No one, not even Pat Hughes (or even Andy Martin, for that matter) has ever suggested that Mark Kirk would not be a reliable vote to block Obama's misguided version of healthcare reform if Kirk were in the Senate. If you doubt that, call House Minority Leader John Boehner, with whom Kirk worked closely to craft Republican alternatives to ObamaCare, and ask him. For that matter, you don't get asked to give the Republican weekly radio address in response to the President, and present the GOP alternative, like Mark Kirk did back in November 2009, if you're not rock-solid on that issue.
So if a vote against ObamaCare, and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats, is good enough for even Jim DeMint, Illinois conservatives ought to think again about Mark Kirk, and whether the seductive prospect of actually winning this seat back for the GOP is worth swallowing some of their angst over what they see as Kirk's failings. As we see from Professor Shor's research, if you want to win elections, you need to consider the electorate in the area in which you are running. As I've said often before in the context of IL-10, Congressman Kirk's congressional district, Kirk is the most conservative congressman that was ever going to be elected in our fairly liberal district. The same goes for Illinois -- in a state that's so blue, the GOP holds no state-wide offices, we need a moderate like Kirk who is going to be able to appeal to conservative Republicans, moderates, independents, and maybe even a few Dems.
I contributed to Scott Brown's campaign and I hope he wins. But a Brown victory will be a victory for 'big tent' Republicans and independents that came together to refute the radical policies of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, not a victory for the ideological purists that may mistakenly see Brown as a rallying point for right-wing exclusivity.
UPDATED: I saw this earlier today but didn't have time to fit it in. But given the number of people (both R's and D's) who seem to be insisting (for their own purposes) that Scott Brown is a fire-breathing right-winger (as one commentor put it), I wanted to quote from the endorsement of the Cape Cod Times of Brown:
It is no surprise that Brown has been gaining momentum in a state, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one. He has run an energetic campaign and has been outspoken on the issues. More importantly, however, we believe he is less likely of the two candidates to toe the party line. For example, in an editorial board meeting with the Cape Cod Times earlier this week, Brown was critical of President Bush and defended President Obama regarding the current financial crisis.
In his last re-election to the state Senate in 2008, Brown won by a 59-41 percent margin. Part of his success comes from his willingness to work with Democrats on important issues.
"I would not have been overwhelmingly re-elected if I didn't know how to work across party lines," Brown said in the primary. "If the Democrats have a good idea, I'd be happy to vote with them."
Brown is exactly what Washington needs — someone who will vote his conscience rather than spew party rhetoric.
Doesn't sound like much of a fire-breather to me. Conservatives, Tea Partiers, please keep supporting Brown. We need everyone to push him over the finish line. But do it because you think he can win, don't do it because you've been fooled or mislead into thinking he's a hard-line right-winger, because he's not. And a Scott Brown win, which will hopefully occur, should inspire Illinois conservatives to support Mark Kirk, not oppose him.