It was hot and crowded at Mark Kirk’s election-night watch party.
Standing room only, as more than 70 people crowded into the small lobby of the suite of offices in a Monroe Street skyscraper that serves as his campaign headquarters.
The crowd—mostly press and staff, along with party faithful—downed sandwiches and beer while they waited, and waited, for the senator to make what everyone knew would be a primary-election victory speech.
Kirk had been rolled through the room in a wheelchair about 7 PM, only to disappear behind a closed office door.
Meanwhile, a TV tucked behind the food and drink buffet, and tuned to Fox news, brought word that Trump was winning in Florida and Rubio was giving up.
So, would Kirk be supporting Trump, if he’s the candidate? He already said he would, right?
I put the question to Kirk’s amiable spokesman and crowd wrangler, Matt Custardo, who insisted that was wrong. No commitment’s been made, Custardo said. “We’re going to wait until July.”
Then word came that the Sun-Times had already called this race in Kirk’s favor, announcing that the fall election will be a Kirk/Duckworth face-off. But the wait continued. The music played, the air grew warmer. People helped themselves to Kirk T-shirts and Kirk “LEADERSHIP COMMITTEE” buttons.
“I have a few more people coming,” former Calumet Township Republican committeeman Jeff Coleman told a staffer who asked how long it would be. “Five more minutes,” he said. The room continued to fill.
Coleman, who’s aiding Kirk with his urban outreach, said he favors Rubio in the presidential race. Rubio just dropped out? “Then I’ve gotta go with Cruz,” he said.
It was close to 8 PM when Kirk was helped to the podium. “The November election will be one of bold contrasts,” he said, reading from a list of issues on which he says he and Duckworth differ: refugees, Guantanamo (he’d keep it open), “fiscal sanity,” and “holding the VA accountable.”
Kirk reminded the crowd that “After my stroke, I climbed the 42 steps to the capitol,” and that “I’ve been counted out” many times before, and “have won every race. This one will be no different,” he said, in conclusion.
He got a nice round of applause, then came back to say he’d forgotten “one last word, which was supposed to be in Spanish.”
Kirk demonstrated his Spanish fluency and was assisted off the speaker’s platform, using a cane. A round of on-camera interviews and selfies awaited him.
On television, the pundits said that the Kirk-Duckworth contest, which could influence the tilt of the Senate, will be one of the most significant—and richly funded—in the country.
No matter who wins it, Illinois will have a senator thoroughly schooled in disability.