Republican Sen. Mark Kirk may have just made his upcoming race for re-election a lot more difficult.
Kirk, who is seen as a top target for Democrats to regain a seat in 2016, is currently under fire for remarks that some critics consider to be racially insensitive. While being interviewed by the Peoria Journal Star this month, the Illinois lawmaker suggest that black areas in the state are the ones “we drive faster through.”
Although the comment was made in the context of promoting initiatives Kirk supports to strengthen the economic and social standing of the African-American community in Illinois, the language he used has not been well received.
“I think what he was trying to say is, he was trying to relate that to crime. But boy, it was a poor choice of phraseology,” George Mitchell, president of the NAACP’s Illinois State Conference, told The Huffington Post.
“Creating some billionaires does not change the economic plight. What changes the plight of poor people is to not have a few billionaires come out of the group, but to have everyone lifted,” added Mitchell. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Kirk’s office issued a statement to try to quell the uproar on Tuesday.
“Anyone watching network news in Chicago is aware of the frequent killings and violence that affects various communities in Illinois. Senator Kirk is active in fighting gang violence, keeping assault weapons off the streets, and working within the African-American community to find aspiring entrepreneurs,” an official spokesperson for the senator said in the statement. “No one can question Senator Kirk’s commitment to the African-American community.”
Chicago has made headlines in recent years for being plagued by historically high levels of gun violence. The city hit a tragic mark of 500 homicides in 2012. And Kirk has set himself apart from many of his Republican Senate colleagues, taking moderate stances on a number of key issues, most recently throwing his support behind Obama attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.
Still, the gaffe comes at an inopportune time for Kirk, who is running in a blue state with a sizable black population in a general election year where turnout is historically more favorable to the Democrats. Kirk will likely face rising Democratic star and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth in next year’s election.