Kirk: I'm not going to campaign against Dick Durbin

Translation: Don’t expect Illinois and Dick Durbin’s Senate seat to be on Nate Silver’s top ten flips to the GOP. At a press conference yesterday, Republican Senator Mark Kirk told reporters that it was more important to maintain his relationship with Durbin than it was to campaign for a fellow Republican opposing him in 2014’s midterm elections. Kirk equated solidarity with the GOP to a “partisan jihad,” while NRSC chair John Cornyn sat next to him, looking a little bemused (via NewsAlert):

Kirk and Durbin are a very rare couple in Washington. They get along, even when they disagree. They grew closer after Kirk suffered a severe stroke, keeping him away from the Capitol for almost a year.

As a result, the two have forged for now an informal, unspoken, non-aggression pact.

Kirk’s more-than-kind words for Durbin will be very useful to Durbin in his race against Oberweis — where Durbin is the front-runner. A mutual disarming is potentially vastly more beneficial to Kirk, who already has said he will run for another term in 2016 and could potentially face a Democrat with some juice.

Yes, I’m sure that will turn out well for Kirk in 2016. Mutual disarmament in these cases is always reciprocated after the fact, right? Besides, in Illinois, Kirk will be at enough of a disadvantage due to the party disparities that Durbin can remain above the fray in public, but something tells me in a presidential cycle that Durbin will at least test the limits of the peace treaty.

The description of a free election as a “partisan jihad” certainly sounded like a swipe at Jim Oberweis, who issued a restrained rebuttal shortly afterward:

“I agree with Sen. Kirk that no political campaign should be waged as if it were a holy war, and the I have every intention of conducting an issue-oriented competition for the support of Illinois voters. I respect Sen. Kirk’s goal of maintaining a respectful relationship with his Democratic colleagues in Washington, just as I do in Springfield. I would never ask Sen. Kirk to do anything to endanger his personal or professional relationship with Sen. Durbin,” Oberweis said.

“My understanding is that Sen. Kirk is supportive of the efforts of each of the statewide Republican nominees in Illinois this year, just as the Illinois Republican Party has supported Sen. Kirk in each of his general election contests. I look forward to serving with Mark in the United State Senate come January 2015.”

Republicans had little chance of winning this seat in the first place, so Kirk is in large part being a realist by staying out of it. He’s protecting the one seat Republicans have a chance of retaining in Illinois, and in 2016 that may be a critical seat if Democrats have a chance to win control of the upper chamber — a point which will also test Durbin’s commitment to the peace accord. But perhaps it might be better for Kirk to at least record some support for his party’s nominee, even if he dials the enthusiasm down, and avoids the suggestion that challenging a long-term incumbent is the equivalent of a holy war.