If Mark Kirk makes it through his party's primary -- and he should -- he still will have much to prove regarding how he would conduct a second term in the U.S. Senate.
As the incumbent U.S. senator and a five-term U.S. congressman, Kirk, of Highland Park, has cemented his reputation as an independent thinker in a Republican Party that increasingly disdains members who veer from doctrinaire partisanship. Most recently, his outspoken insistence that the Senate should take up consideration of a Supreme Court nominee during President Obama's last nine months in office was a nearly isolated example of good sense among Republicans on that question. He has broken with his party on other major issues, too, including Planned Parenthood funding and gun control. Yet, he is a stalwart defender of traditional GOP values on the economy, taxation and government spending. As a former officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he is a particularly strong and insightful voice on matters of defense.
While we've found Kirk worthy of our support for many years, we must acknowledge some growing concern. On several occasions, he's made ill-considered remarks that raised serious questions about his judgment. His health has been an issue for him since he suffered a stroke in January 2012 that kept him out of service until an inspiring walk up the Capitol steps a year later. Our concerns have persisted after he failed, despite months of overtures, to keep promises to meet with our editorial board to discuss his candidacy, even by phone. As a congressman and in the early days of his Senate service, he met regularly with us to discuss developments in Washington.
His challenger, successful technology consultant James T. Marter, is earnest and thoughtful, but his rigid views, which include opposing virtually any regulation of assault weapons and viewing Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," suggest more a continuation of the gridlock choking federal government than the kind of open cooperation needed to bring a diverse group of national leaders to consensus. In a general election contest in a state increasingly tilting left of center, Marter would make it harder, if not unlikely, for Republicans to keep Kirk's Senate seat. But Kirk's consistent independence and steadfast support of central Republican values make him the clear choice for the GOP.
Even so, it remains for him to show he has the fortitude and acuity to meet the demands of the next six years as his party works to move the nation beyond the stasis Washington now represents. Should he survive the primary, we look forward to seeing that question addressed.