U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk took to Twitter Friday to apologize after created a national media firestorm Thursday during a debate with his odd remark that questioned his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's heritage. (See the first video below.)
Kirk noted challenger Duckworth's family heritage and sought to link her to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich during a 90-minute debate that found the senator on the offensive and, at times, rambling.
Kirk's aggressive approach Thursday was a marked contrast from that of the last debate between him and Duckworth on Oct. 3, when Kirk was low-key and often gave short answers before the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
Duckworth at times appeared taken aback by Kirk's statements, as when early in the debate he spoke over her to say, "We agree on one key point. That we both believe the next senator from Illinois should use a wheelchair."
When Duckworth, answering a question about American involvement in the Middle East, said that her family "served this nation in uniform, going back to the Revolution," Kirk replied, "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."
Kirk's comment was met with awkward silence from the crowd. Duckworth, who was born in Thailand, responded, "There's been members of my family serving in uniform on my father's side going back to the Revolution. I'm proud of both my father's side and my mother, who's an immigrant. She became a citizen in her 50s. And I'm just as proud of that."
Asked by media panelist Jim Leach of Springfield radio station WMAY-AM 970 about whether his stroke has affected his ability to handle "the rigors of this demanding job," Kirk was emphatic in defending his health.
"I would say that the stroke has made me much stronger as a senator," Kirk said. "When you conquer something as difficult as a stroke, you get in there and you're going to fight, fight, fight to make sure you deliver for the people of Illinois."
Duckworth said she did not believe Kirk's health should be an issue in the campaign.
"I think the senator is perfectly capable of doing his job. The concern I have is he's not doing his job," Duckworth said.
The event was sponsored by The State Journal-Register, University of Illinois-Springfield, WICS NewsChannel 20 and Springfield radio stations News/Talk 94.7 and 970-AM WMAY.
Adam Rife of WICS moderated and the media panel featured State Journal-Register political columnist Bernard Schoenburg, Leach and WICS reporter Jordan Abudayyeh.