CHICAGO -- In the stairwell of the Kluczynski Federal Building, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk slowly ascends five floors. He’s training to climb a portion of the Willis Tower, something he’s done for the past four years. That fighting spirit has helped the 57-year-old overcome a massive stroke he suffered in January 2012.
Despite paralysis on his left side and the need for a wheelchair, Kirk is sure he’s strong enough to represent the people of Illinois.
"You need someone to work across the aisle," he said.
However, critics have questioned his physical and possible mental limitations. Kirk’s doctor says the senator has made a full cognitive recovery though Kirk has not released all his medical records.
Then there’s the other issue -- his opponent. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a fellow veteran, has strong backing, including from President Obama.
At their first televised debate in Springfield last week, Kirk kept to short, direct answers on most issues but drew fire from Democrats when he made a comment about Duckworth’s parents. Her family’s military background dates back to the Revolutionary War.
"Your parents came from Thailand to fight for George Washington," he said.
Known as a moderate Republican, Kirk was among the first to withdraw support for Donald Trump. Here is where he stands on some major issues:
- On abortion, he is pro-choice.
- Kirk also went against his party’s stand by supporting gay marriage.
- On gun control, he supports banning guns to those on the no-fly list, banning certain assault weapons, and making gun trafficking a federal offense.
- Senator Kirk voted against repealing Obamacare though he believes it needs to be modified.
- As for military involvement, Kirk says no boots on the ground -- air support only.
- On immigration, he believes in securing the borders but allowing a path to citizenship and immediate citizenship for undocumented combat soldiers.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be his best known supporter but Kirk is vulnerable. He runs behind in the polls. For the first time, the Chicago Tribune did not endorse Kirk, while the Daily Herald supports him. His campaign funds this quarter is $3 million less than Duckworth. Still, he is confident.
"I've always been expected to lose a rasce, and the position of me serving as the underdog has always been when the people of Illinois have stood with me," he said.
Kirk’s comments have caused more problems. Just last Sunday, a gay rights group and a gun control group withdrew their endorsements. The next televised debate is scheduled for Nov. 4.
WGN's profile of Duckworth will air on the News at Nine Wednesday.