Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a two-term Democrat, told CQ Roll Call Monday that she is seriously considering challenging vulnerable Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., in 2016.
Duckworth, currently finishing maternity leave following the birth of her daughter , said in a phone interview she is beginning the process of exploring a Senate bid as she gears up to return to Capitol Hill.
"My baby just turned eight weeks old. The first two months with her coming early were 110 percent focused on her," Duckworth said in a phone interview Monday. I'm "getting ready to get back to work in a few weeks, and I'm starting to listen to folks throughout the state, listen to Illinois families about the challenges they're facing, listen to my friends and closest advisers and taking a real serious look at 2016."
Democrats must pick up five seats to ensure Senate control this cycle, and the race in Illinois is on top of the party's list of targets. President Barack Obama carried Illinois by a 17-point margin in 2012, and the Illinois Senate race is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.
"I have really been humbled by how much encouragement [I've received] from so many folks to seriously consider a run for Senate in 2016," Duckworth said. "A lot of folks here in Illinois are looking for a change, and right now what I'm doing is starting to reach out and listen to many voices throughout the state."
Many Democratic operatives view Duckworth as the top contender to take on Kirk in his first re-election in 2016.
Both are veterans: Kirk was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, while Duckworth served as a helicopter pilot in the Army.
Kirk suffered a stroke in January 2012 and sometimes uses a wheelchair and cane for mobility. Duckworth lost her legs and damaged her right arm in 2004, when a helicopter she was co-piloting in the Iraq War was shot down.
Duckworth said her decision will come down to whether she feels she is the right voice to speak for Illinois families, as well as whether it's the right decision for her family.
She said she plans to seek advice from Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the minority whip who has advised Duckworth in her political career , as well as some of the women in the Senate who serve with young families.
Ultimately, Duckworth said she hopes to have a decision in the "coming weeks."
"It’s a decision that’s going to be made sooner rather than later," Duckworth said. "Running for Senate is a very involved process. Even though we have a ways to go, the primary is very early compared to other states. Ours is in March, and may be earlier with the presidential election."
A number of other Democrats are also considering bids , including two of Duckworth's House colleagues: Reps. Cheri Bustos and Bill Foster.
"Mark Kirk is one of the most vulnerable Senators in the country and Democrats are confident that we'll have a great candidate who will beat him in 2016," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky.
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