Kirk has been generally liked by independents throughout his career, and rode a conservative wave in 2010 to claim President Barack Obama’s old seat. But, following a first term notably marred by health problems, he now will likely be matched against a formidable Democratic challenger next year in Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Factor in the fact that the conservative base isn’t wild about his voting record, and Kirk is going to have quite the uphill battle next year.
A December We Ask America poll has Kirk trailing Duckworth by less than a percentage point at 45.59 to 45, which is not a good sign for any incumbent especially considering the unlikelihood conservatives wake up tomorrow and suddenly fall in love with the freshman senator. He may even have to do battle with a GOP primary challenge before battling Duckworth.
But another grim sign for Kirk has nothing to do with a primary challenge or his struggle with the conservative base. A Kirk reelection would be historically rare for Illinois. The last Republican to win reelection to either Illinois senate seat was Charles Percy in 1978, who held what is now Sen. Dick Durbin’s seat. Percy lost reelection in 1985.
The history with the seat Kirk holds is even worse. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald chose not to seek reelection in 2004, and the next Republican to win reelection was Everett Dirksen in 1968 – the only Republican in the last 100 years to win reelection to the seat. Hence why Kirk’ victory over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in 2010 was all the more stunning.
Kirk has his share of problems heading into 2016 and is possibly the most likely incumbent Senator to lose in the country. Conservatives might not be on his side, but history definitely isn’t.