From the Supreme Court vacancy battle to gay rights to criminal justice reform, the moderate Illinois Republican is sounding more like a Democrat with each passing day as he fights to save his political life in an overwhelmingly blue state this fall.
Kirk is one of just two outliers in the Senate GOP Conference on whether the chamber should vote on Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court this year and has bent over backward to show he disagrees with his fellow Republicans. Aside from telling other Republicans to “man up” and vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Kirk has circulated memos to Republicans touting Garland and boasted about a personal note from Obama thanking Kirk for advocating for his nominee.
Just this week, Kirk co-sponsored a criminal justice reform bill that would loosen some mandatory minimum sentences, despite complaints within the GOP that it would unwittingly release violent criminals early from prison. And he joined with five of the most liberal senators to urge the NBA to move its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to the state’s controversial new law that bans anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
Kirk’s strategy is dictated by his home state’s leftward bent: His Democratic challenger, Tammy Duckworth, may need to do little more than emphasize her party label to oust him in November.