Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks with Roll Call at his desk in the Hart Senate Office Building on Nov. 13, 2014.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

Mark Kirk riles Senate race with racially charged remark

The irony is, Illinois Democrats hoped to use last night’s Senate debate to put Sen. Mark Kirk (R) on the defensive on the issue of race. In August, the Republican incumbent lashed out at President Obama, arguing that he’s “acting like the Drug Dealer in Chief” – the latest in a series of racial comments from the senator – and the Democratic Party of Illinois issued a press statement yesterday afternoon, pushing Kirk to apologize at the debate.

What Dems couldn’t have anticipated was Kirk making their jobs much easier.

Not only did the GOP senator decline to apologize for his racially charged rhetoric towards the president, Kirk managed to make matters much worse with some racially charged rhetoric towards his opponent.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is again under fire for making racially-charged comments, this time for questioning the military service of his Democratic opponent’s family.

During Thursday night’s debate between Kirk and challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Duckworth spoke about her desire to be in the Senate as a voice of reason and referenced her family’s history of service, saying, “My family has served this nation in uniform, going back to the Revolution. I’m a daughter of the American Revolution. I’ve bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound. Because people are quick to sound the drums of war, and I want to be there to say this is what it costs, this is what you’re asking us to do…. Families like mine are the ones that bleed first.”

Kirk responded: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
I’ve seen the video, which in some ways makes matters worse. Note that Kirk’s superfluous sarcasm, made not as part of some heated exchange, but just blurted out for no reason.

Indeed, that’s the part of the story that I find hardest to wrap my head around. Duckworth, a decorated combat veteran, was born in Thailand to a Thai mother of Chinese descent, who also has an American father – an American marine who traced his lineage back to the American Revolution.

Why in the world would Kirk, who’s been caught exaggerating his own service record, find it necessary to say, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington”? How does it help his campaign to make racially charged comments about his opponent’s family?

To her credit, Duckworth didn’t respond to Kirk’s comment. The debate moved on, but the damage was done. The Washington Post described it as “one of the most awkward moments of his – or perhaps any incumbent senator’s – 2016 campaign.”

Twisting the knife a bit, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, still annoyed over Kirk’s decision to pull his Trump endorsement, mocked Kirk’s misstep last night.

As of the electoral context, Duckworth is widely expected to defeat Kirk on Election Day.

* Update: Late this morning, Kirk said via Twitter, “Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family’s service.”