U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is being called to the carpet over his recent silence on the hotly contested Republican presidential race -- namely his take on the polarizing frontrunner, Donald Trump.
Kirk is set to face off against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL,8), state Sen. Napoleon Harris of Harvey or former Chicago Board of Education member and ex-Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp.
On the heels of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's scathing speech disavowing Trump on Thursday, the Duckworth campaign is continuing its call for Kirk to end his ongoing silence on the presidential race, citing his failure to "join the growing number of Illinois Republicans who have pledged not to support Donald Trump if he is the GOP nominee."
"Donald Trump and his racist demagoguery have no place in our politics, and more and more leaders in Illinois aren't afraid to say so. So why won't Mark Kirk join the chorus of Illinois Republicans who have pledged not to support Donald Trump and his offensive platform if he is the Republican Party's nominee?," said Matt McGrath, Duckworth's campaign spokesman. "Is Kirk afraid of offending that subset of the Republican base Trump appeals to ahead of his primary on March 15th? Or perhaps Kirk is genuinely supportive of Trump's outrageous and offensive platform.
"Either way, Kirk's silence should be taken as a tacit endorsement of Trump, which makes sense," he added. "Whether it's their long records of making misogynistic and offensive comments towards women and communities of color or their shared embrace of fear-mongering and discriminatory policies towards Muslims, Donald Trump and Mark Kirk have much in common. "
Zopp also called on Kirk to disavow Trump this week, saying the congressman should make a public statement on the issue before Illinoisans hit the polls later this month.
"Donald Trump has proven himself to be a racist demagogue who has drawn support by manipulating our worst emotions. His campaign has been driven solely by hatred and fear," Zopp said via statement on Thursday. "Illinois voters, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, have seen their needs ignored and dismissed. We cannot afford to see them assaulted full-on by a Donald Trump candidacy.
"Senator Kirk must make clear his views on Trump's brand of Republicanism before Illinois goes to the polls on March 15th," Zopp added. "My father fought in World War II - a war in which America fought against a leader who won an election with race baiting, extreme nationalism, and vitriol. Trump is a similar kind of dangerous leader and Senator Kirk needs to let the people know what side of history he will be on."
Despite saying Trump should "shut up" back in July over his inflammatory comments on Mexico and immigration, Kirk shows no signs of jumping into the rough waters of the GOP presidential primary. Kirk's spokesman Kevin Arti, said the congressman would not make "crystal ball prognostications given the fluidity of the race." But over the summer, Kirk said Trump's derogatory comments about Mexico were harmful to the party.
"I would say that Trump is probably hurting the Republican Party with his over-the-top comments on the spirit and character of Mexicans, which is not correct," Kirk said. "I went to school in Mexico. It's not a country of rapists and criminals."
Kirk's current approach appears be similar to the route being taken by some Illinois Republican lawmakers, who continue to be tepid on the issue as a means to avoid getting into Trump's crosshairs, especially since he continues to be the party's presidential frontrunner.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner dodged questions on Trump, saying that although the presidential race has been "a wild process," he has no comment about the frontrunner. Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is reportedly staying out of the race and will support whoever is elected as his party's presidential nominee. Illinois congressmen Mike Bost (R-IL,12), Rodney Davis (R-IL,13) and John Shimkus (R-IL-15) also say they will throw their support behind their party's nominee.
U.S. Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL,10), however, is one of the Illinois Republicans who has been vocal about his opposition to Trump, raising concerns about Trump's history of making racially offensive and misogynistic comments.
"For me, it's personal," Dold told The Washington Post last month. "[Trump's] comments about women, his comments about minorities, about Latinos -- for me that's not a guy I would support."
Dold, who represents a district consisting of suburbs along Chicago's North Shore, is in one of the nation's most closely watched races, with his seat being seen as "vulnerable" in this election cycle. There is wide concern amongst Republicans that a controversial GOP presidential candidate could adversely affect down-ballot candidates.
"The top of the ticket is going to have a significant impact for House and Senate races and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves," Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP strategist, told the WaPo. "Members like Bob Dold and other moderates who disagree the most with people like Ted Cruz are the most vulnerable."
"I think there is damage being done broadly to the Republican brand," Walsh added. "I worry about the number of Americans who have never voted before, minorities and Hispanics. I worry about the rhetoric that is coming out from the party."
In the general election, Dold will either go up against former congressman Brad Schneider or Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. (Read more about the race between Rotering and Schneider here.) If Schneider wins the primary, the November election will mark the third battle between the two candidates. Schneider unseated then-freshman congressman Dold in 2012, but was unseated by the Republican during a 2014 rematch. The highly-contentious nature of the impending race in the 10th district has prompted Dold to be fairly quick in offering his take on a Trump GOP presidential nominee.
"I think Donald Trump has disqualified himself. Whether it be his divisive words, we do not need a divider. Whether it be on women, whether it be on veterans, whether it be on Latinos, whether it be on Muslims," Dold said recently.
But Dems in Dold's district are challenging his attempts to distance himself from the increasingly likely presidential nominee, arguing that "posing as 'not Trump' by avoiding inflammatory rhetoric is insufficient."
"Desperate to appear untied to his unpopular party, Double Talk Dold now shrugs and says people should just ignore the fact that he's Republican," reads a release from the Illinois Tenth Congressional District Democrats group. "This is the same Dold who signed a contract with national Republicans in return for strategic support and 'a special pot of cash.' This is the same Dold who co-hosted a Chicago fundraiser for right-wing ideologue, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan ... It's the same Dold who worked for Republicans Dan Quayle, Bob Dole, and Clinton conspiracy theorist Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). Dold can run from Trump's words but he can't hide from his own poor attempt to reflect the values of the 10th District."
Meanwhile, Trump appears to be poised to win the March 15 Illinois GOP presidential primary election, with a Real Clear Politics poll average of 33 percent compared to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) 17.5 percent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) 15.5 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich's 11 percent.