One of three politicians who Democrats say is considering a challenge to Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., remained mum about his plans in an interview with CQ Roll Call last week — but he did not rule out the possibility.
Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., confirmed he's been asked "from time to time" by Illinois Democrats about a bid, but he said it's too early to discuss whether he wants to run for Senate.
"At this point I am just focused on getting the end-of-year business done," Foster told CQ Roll Call last week in between votes.
"But I think it will be very important for the Democratic Party to mount a very strong challenge to the seat," Foster continued. "This is on everyone’s list of seats that has to be reclaimed by the Democrats. And I think that many people recognize the long list of things that Mark Kirk has voted for that really have not ended well for the people of Illinois."
Democrats say Foster, along with Reps. Cheri Bustos and Tammy Duckworth, could mount formidable campaigns against Kirk. Democrats must net five seats to reclaim control of the Senate in 2016. Kirk tops their target list because he represents a state Democrats have carried every presidential cycle since 1992.
A Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee aide said it's too early to talk about recruitment when asked about the race. But Illinois Democrats said Foster has a few advantages if he decides to run.
His House district includes Chicago suburbs key to statewide victory in the Land of Lincoln, plus Foster represents Aurora and Naperville, two of the largest cities in the state.
Foster had more than $1.1 million in cash on hand as of Nov. 24, with the ability to self-fund if needed. Foster has at least $7 million in assets, clocking in as the 51st richest member of Congress, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis . Much of that is derived from the successful theater lighting company he founded with his brother in his parents' garage.
Foster's cash on hand just slightly trails Kirk, who reported just more than $1.5 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.
But Illinois Democrats said Foster would likely have problems in a primary if Duckworth or Bustos decided to run.
Democrats said Duckworth has gripping story to tell in a statewide campaign. A veteran of the Iraq War, she lost both legs and damaged her arm when her Blackhawk helicopter was shot down.
Kirk served in the Navy Reserve for more than two decades, and suffered a stroke in January 2012.
Duckworth is "interested" in a bid, the Chicago Sun Times reported last month. She recently gave birth to her first child, making some Illinois Democrats question whether she will want to run statewide campaign. She is currently on maternity leave.
Duckworth ended the 2014 cycle with nearly $1.1 million in cash on hand.
Bustos is also well-connected in Illinois. She has close ties to Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin. Her father, the late Gene Callahan , was a top aide to Illinois Democratic Sens. Paul Simon and Alan Dixon, and Bustos babysat Durbin's children when she was a teenager.
Bustos ended the 2014 cycle with less cash in the bank because she had a competitive re-election battle in her northwestern Illinois district. But she proved to be an adept fundraiser, raising more than $3.1 million in the midterms.
Durbin said on Dec. 11 that he's spoken to "a number of people about it," but he declined to say whom or whether he had a favorite.
Kirk is preparing for his re-election bid, despite facing lingering physical challenges from the stroke.
“No frickin’ way am I retiring,” he told CQ Roll Call last month . ”With all this rehab, for me just to walk was a huge effort. I had to re-learn how to walk again after the stroke. And all the rehab and all the effort shows the mental determination times 10 to keep serving.”
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