(Bloomberg Politics) — Republican Sen. Mark Kirk’s political vulnerability as he seeks re-election in 2016 boils down to this: He’s a Republican in a Democratic state.
His party affiliation proved less burdensome in 2010, midway into Barack Obama’s first term in the White House. That year, in one of the best national political environments for Republicans since World War II, Kirk scored a 2-point victory, capturing the seat the president had once held.
Kirk faces a tougher climb in the coming year, when Democrats are hoping to win back control of the Senate. The Illinois electorate will be bigger and more diverse in a presidential election year than it was during the mid-term election. And while the 2016 Democratic presidential standard-bearer probably won’t approach Obama’s huge home-state margins in 2008 and 2012, Illinois favored the Democratic nominee by 10 points in 2000 and 12 points in 2004.
Poll results from Gallup show that about 6.7 percent of Illinois residents may have gained health coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Medicaid expansion program and other coverage expansion programs since late 2013.
Republicans currently hold a 54-46 majority in the U.S. Senate, and they are the defending party in 24 of the 34 races, including seven in states Obama carried in the 2012 election. Kirk’s seat is one of the most competitive, according to nonpartisan political analysts.
The senator will have to persuade hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters to back him after voting first for the Democratic presidential nominee at the top of the ticket. A Republican last won an Illinois Senate election in a presidential election year more than four decades ago, in 1972, when incumbent Charles Percy won re-election.
Kirk’s bipartisan appeal is tied to his maintaining a voting record that keeps the national Republican Party at some distance. In the 114th Congress, he’s sided with his party 72 percent of the time on votes that divided the two parties. In the polarized Senate, where so many votes fall along party-lines, that’s the third-lowest measure of party unity among Republican senators, according to Bloomberg data.
He was the only Republican who voted last week to thwart Senate legislation that would have barred federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The bill, S. 1881, failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.
He sided with the Obama administration, and opposed groups aligned with Tea Party activists, in pushing for a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which provides loans and guarantees to aid overseas sales by U.S. companies. Boeing Co., a major beneficiary of the bank’s programs, has its headquarters in Chicago. In March 2013, Kirk became the second Republican senator to support same-sex marriage.