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Kirk's Next Challenge? Re-Election in 2016

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Kirk returned to the Senate a year ago after having an ischemic stroke. The next challenge he faces is winning re-election in 2016, a goal he’s already working on by starting to visit the major media markets in Illinois.

Lying in a Chicago hospital bed two years ago, Sen. Mark S. Kirk had a lot of time to think.

Debilitated by an ischemic stroke, he thought about his failings as a senator and as a boss. He thought about his then-lukewarm relationship with fellow Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin. He thought about what he might do differently and the change in how others would view him, when — not if — he returned to Washington.

Now, a year after his return to Capitol Hill, Kirk is thinking deeply again — this time, about his next daunting challenge: winning re-election in 2016. While most of his colleagues are focused on 2014, Kirk said he is already “very seriously” dedicated to his own race.

The 54-year-old Republican knows he isn’t the spry Naval reservist he was when he won President Barack Obama’s seat in 2010. So his team has divided the Land of Lincoln into 10 major media markets, aiming to hit each area as often as possible, shuttling the senator around the state on American Eagle regional jets.

Kirk must start campaigning now to win another term in Illinois, a strong Democratic state. In a wide-ranging, Jan. 16 interview in his personal office, Kirk said he watched former Sen. Scott P. Brown, R-Mass., lose in a “very blue state” and learned “to not underestimate what can come at you.”

“In my case, I always expected, right after I got elected, to get challenged from the right and the left and that the challenge from the left would be by far the more powerful challenge,” Kirk said.

From Walk to Run

Even Kirk’s strongest backers acknowledge that his next campaign will be more challenging than his last, particularly from a physical perspective. His stroke left him partially paralyzed on his left side.

“People have to get past the physical limitations of a young person like Sen. Kirk and realize he is still capable,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “The folks he represents are going to realize that he’s ready for the re-election and he’s going to win.”

That’s part of the reason for Kirk’s early start: He doesn’t have the stamina to bounce from fundraiser to event to fundraiser to parade on a single day. Aides are also mulling the opportunities technology can provide, such as using Skype to connect to fundraisers without having to physically move to a new location.

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