Former Congressional Representative Joe Walsh (R) says he is “very seriously considering challenging” Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R), in the 2016 Illinois GOP Senate primary. Walsh lost his suburban Chicago House Seat in 2012 to Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) by a 55-45 margin. If Walsh were able to defeat Senator Kirk in the Republican primary, he might find himself in a rematch with Duckworth, who has also expressed interest in running for the Illinois Senate seat. In a statewide race, the conservative Walsh would face long odds against Duckworth. Barack Obama won Illinois by a 58-41 margin in 2012. That closely mirrors Obama’s 57-41 victory over Romney in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District, where Duckworth defeated Walsh in the 2012 race.
Since losing his Congressional seat, Walsh has taken to the airwaves as a right-wing talk show host. While he is popular with hardcore conservatives, his controversial comments make him a risky candidate to run in a statewide race. His difficulties are compounded by Illinois’ Democratic lean. Mark Kirk is one of the more moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate. While his moderate positions on some issues, help him maintain support in liberal Illinois, they also make him vulnerable to a challenge from the right, in a GOP primary. If Walsh were to step into the race, it would put Kirk in the awkward position of defending his right and left flanks simultaneously.
Walsh has come under fire for repeatedly making racist remarks. In addition, he has often come across as insensitive. In the 2012 race, he complained about Tammy Duckworth campaigning on her military record, mocking her, by arguing that a “true hero” would be uncomfortable talking about her service.
True to form, Walsh has followed suit by implying that Mark Kirk’s recent stroke makes other candidates afraid of challenging him. Walsh argues:
I think because of his overall physical condition I don’t know anyone else would consider challenging him and that’s just plain wrong. If you privately talk to people who would ordinarily primary him, they’d all say ‘he’s got no business running, but I can’t challenge him, look at who he is, people are going to say I’m mean spirited because I’m challenging him.’ Because of sympathy for Mark Kirk I don’t know of a serious candidate who would challenge him besides me.
In reality, a number of Democratic candidates have expressed interest in running for Kirk’s seat. However, unlike Walsh, they plan to run against Kirk based on supporting different policies, rather than trying to exploit his medical condition as a talking point for their campaign. Joe Walsh remains a controversial figure in Illinois politics. His bombastic nature is likely to generate media attention, but outside of far right circles, it probably won’t win over many voters.