It’s no secret that the Democrats, still stinging from their midterm losses, would like to take back some of those lost Senate seats. One of the biggest targets they have in their sights is freshman Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. The state is fairly evenly divided and the GOP can have a rough time there even in the best of years, so it’s not surprising that they would feel like they have a decent chance at that seat in a presidential election year. For some time now it’s been assumed that the Democrat’s default candidate would be Tammy Duckworth. She seems like a natural fit, particularly given her compelling back story as an Iraq veteran and Purple Heart recipient combined with her recent experience in the House representing the 6th district. But as Ed reported earlier this month there have been rumblings that her own party isn’t ready to hold a coronation for her and many insiders have been shopping around for someone who might bring a little more diversity to the race. (From National Journal)

But outside of the Beltway, some Illinois Democrats aren’t ready to rally around Duckworth just yet. Looking ahead to the first statewide election without President Obama on the ballot, they say the party needs an African-American candidate to help motivate black voters in 2016, and they think they’ve found just the woman for the job.

Andrea Zopp—a 57-year-old Harvard law grad with an impressive corporate resume, including time as general counsel for Sears and Exelon—has spent the past four years as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Now she’s considering a Senate run of her own.

Complaints about a candidate with Duckworth’s resume based on the fact that she might not be “diverse” enough are rather shocking when you consider that she was born in Thailand (American father and Thai mother) and her bio lists her as also having “some Chinese ancestry.” But apparently that’s not good enough when you need to win Chicago in a landslide to counter the more conservative, rural districts to the south. So, as Ed pointed out, the Democrats are trying to toss Duckworth under the bus and enlist the services of Zopp. For her part, Ms. Zopp is very clear about which of her many qualifications should be the focus.

“My consideration isn’t about the turnout,” she said. “My consideration is that as an African-American woman I think I bring perspective that the African-American community and also other communities of color will respond to, and I think that perspective is not represented in the race.”

But Duckworth is used to a tough primary battle (she barely won her own House primary by roughly 1,000 votes) and her team seems ready to get down and dirty. In fact, they’ve already started slinging some mud at Zopp before she’s even declared.

Team Duckworth seems concerned enough that bits of potential dirt on Zopp have begun to circulate. Such as her votes as a member of the Chicago Board of Education to close 50 schools and to approve that controversial $20.5 million no-bid contract to Supes Academy that’s now under federal probe.

That doesn’t really look much like front page scandal material, but it would indicate that Duckworth is taking the potential challenger seriously and is ready to dig into the dirt if need be. It may just prove to be a juicy primary with plenty of hot Dem on Dem action, while Mark Kirk sits back and builds his war chest. But he’ll have work to do. The Senator’s approval rating is above water at 38/28, but more than a third of voters are expressing no opinion, which can be a dangerous sign. Either way, the Illinois Senate race will be one to watch next year.