Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday October 17th, 2016, 2:51pm

Political Panelists Call Chicago Tribune's U.S. Senate Endorsement 'Shocking'

The Chicago Tribune's controversial endorsement last week of Tammy Duckworth over incumbent Mark Kirk for U.S. Senate continued to draw reaction Monday, with political experts and reporters commenting on the "shocking" decision during a panel discussion on the 2016 election.

Kirk, a Republican, experienced an ischemic stroke in January 2012 and returned to Congress one year later.

In opting to endorse Duckworth, a Democrat, the Trib editorial board cited Kirk's health, saying, in part, that "due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator."

Kirk called the newspaper's endorsement decision a "sucker punch."

"Last I checked they hadn't gone to medical school," the Republican said, according ABC 7 Chicago. "The people on the ed board didn't understand what they were talking about."

Speaking at a panel discussion Monday morning, Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, described the Trib's endorsement as "quite shocking."

Whenever "evaluating any job candidate, if you're interviewing, you need to evaluate them 100 percent on job performance," Mooney said at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's event. "You got a guy who's been in office for six years. You see what he's done. And most of that has been post-stroke, and so I think bringing his health into it ... I think that is irrelevant. In fact, I thought it was quite shocking to bring that up."

Amanda Vinicky, the statehouse bureau chief for NPR Illinois, said she was surprised by the newspaper's endorsement, "given how conservative the endorsements and the Chicago Tribune's editorial board has been."

And since the Kirk v. Duckworth race is expected to be crucial in terms of whether congressional Republicans maintain control of the upper chamber, Vinicky said she thought that "would have influenced the editorial board's decision."

The panelists -- who also included Natasha Korecki, of Politico's Illinois Playbook, and David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute -- also weighed in on local legislative races and whether Republicans will be successful in chipping away at the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate. 

"At this point, it's hard to predict, especially who knows what will happen" in the coming days before the election, Vinicky said. "There are really at least a dozen tight races."

Panelists noted that local Republicans have massive sums of political cash this election cycle thanks to donations coming largely from Gov. Bruce Rauner. 

"We're seeing unprecedented amounts of money being pumped into these tiny races -- $20 million from the Republicans. And in the end, it may do nothing to help them gain a seat, just because of the dynamics of this election," Korecki said. 

Voter turnout will be a key factor for down-ballot races both nationally and locally, Yepsen explained. 

"I think the danger for Republicans nationwide is, for Republican candidates down ballot, is that as this [Donald] Trump thing looks to be disassembling, that some Republicans will just stay home," he said.

"If I were a Republican, I'd be worried about people saying home," Yepsen added, "and that's gonna have an impact on some of these close battleground legislative races in this state."

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