Senator Mark Kirk Says He’s Not Retiring In 2016

Republicans received some potentially good news today when Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois brushed aside rumors that he might retire at the end of his current term:

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., has a message for anyone who doubts his will or appetite for a second term.

“No frickin’ way am I retiring,” he told CQ Roll Call in an exclusive interview Thursday from his Capitol Hill office, following some speculationin local press over the senator’s future and his shifting political operation. ”With all this rehab, for me just to walk was a huge effort. I had to re-learn how to walk again after the stroke. And all the rehab and all the effort shows the mental determination times 10 to keep serving.”

In an extended interview, Kirk sought to dispel any notion he’s ready to leave the Senate — or that he lacks the stamina to seek re-election after suffering an ischemic stroke in January 2012. Kirk said he feels great, and any opponents who question his fitness to serve will regret it.

“That would not be taken well by the people of Illinois, who would not like that kind of attack,” Kirk said. “That would be an advantage to me if they did that.”

The Republican will be a top target for Democrats in 2016, as the party aims to reclaim the majority it lost in a sweeping GOP wave last week. Democrats view Kirk’s seat in Illinois — a state where Democrats dominate in presidential elections — as a top pickup opportunity.

Most recently, several of Kirk’s current and former top staffers have headed to Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner’s administration. The senator’s longtime chief of staff, Eric Elk, is leaving his office to enter the private sector, though Kirk said Elk will still be heavily involved in the campaign.

Kirk said any doubts about his re-election come from Democrats, who fear his moderate brand and popularity in the Chicagoland suburbs make him an insurmountable foe.

“It’s the only way that Democrats can win in Illinois, is to say, ‘Oh, Kirk has health problems, he’s going to retire,'” he said said. “For Democrats looking at a minority life and seeing that they cannot win in Illinois is so frustrating that they will just assume away any issue. They’ll just say to willing reporters, ‘I think Kirk is going to retire.'”

As I noted even before the elections, Republicans will face some serious problems holding on to their Senate majority in 2016 due to the number of seats they will need to defend, most notably seats in states that traditionally vote strongly Democratic in Presidential election years. Senator Kirk’s seat is among those at the top of that list and had he decided to retire it would have been virtually impossible for the GOP to hold on to the seat. Even with Kirk staying in the race, assuming that he isn’t forced to change his mind, it will be a difficult task. However, if nothing else, it’s good that his recovery from his stroke is proceeding well and that he isn’t letting his medical condition push him out of politics just yet.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pinky says:

    Which Republican seats do you think are in danger, at least based on “color”?

  2. Moosebreath says:


    I think Kirk is the only one from a solid blue state. Among states of varying shades of purple are Toomey (PA), Ayotte (NH), Portman (OH), Johnson (WI), Burr (NC), Rubio (FL), and Grassley (IA).

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Good news for Republicans, though still a difficult race. This seat has gone back-and-forth, one-term at a time since the Clarence Thomas hearings upended things:

    Braun (D)
    Fitzgerald (R)
    Obama (D)
    Kirk (R)

    It may come down to whether the popular Democratic Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, runs for this spot. Otherwise, the statewide bench seems a little thin right now.

  4. Pinky says:

    @Moosebreath: Those don’t seem as tough for Republicans as, say, Georgia and Alaska appeared this year for Democrats. Everyone keeps talking about 2016 as equivalent to 2014, but I just don’t see it. Even if you buy into the blue/red stuff, which I think is more hype than anything, the GOP isn’t looking at the kind of brick wall that the Democrats had to reckon with this year. I mean, Grassley has held that seat since the Taft presidency, Rubio seems to be popular in Florida, and if you’re going to count Ohio and Wisconsin as purple, you have to count Colorado too. All other things being equal – and they never are – I’d guess the Republicans would lose two Senate seats.

  5. Moosebreath says:


    “if you’re going to count Ohio and Wisconsin as purple, you have to count Colorado too.”

    I’m not sure what definition of purple doesn’t count all 3 of those states as purple. Colorado’s senator who is up in 2016 (Bennett) is a Democrat, so he wasn’t on that list.

    “All other things being equal – and they never are – I’d guess the Republicans would lose two Senate seats.”

    Too early to tell, but not unreasonable.