WASHINGTON -- David Applegate, a staff member for Rep. Tammy Duckworth's (D-Ill.) Senate campaign, was walking around at the Columbus Day parade in Chicago when he was approached by a woman with a clipboard.
She asked him if he wanted to sign a petition. That was odd in itself, since Applegate was wearing a Duckworth campaign shirt, and the woman was wearing a campaign shirt for Sen. Mark Kirk (R), whom Duckworth is trying to unseat. It got weirder when she said the petition was about raising the minimum wage, an issue Kirk doesn't even support.
Applegate, confused, said he worked for Duckworth, and the woman walked away. He saw her again later, standing with another woman who was also wearing a Kirk shirt and holding a clipboard. He got closer and looked over one of their shoulders. There were "raise the wage" stickers covering the tops of their petitions, but peeking out from underneath them was Mark Kirk's printed name.
They weren't collecting signatures for a wage campaign; there isn't even an active wage campaign in Illinois right now. They were collecting signatures to put Kirk on the ballot for the March primary election.
Applegate got a few pictures of the women before they noticed and took off to a nearby subway station. The photos are a bit blurry, but if you look closely at the upper left hand corner of the petition, you can see "Mark Steven Kirk" printed out as it appears on Kirk's petitions.
"It was a pretty egregious act," he said. "There were a lot of people out there. It was high-density, mostly Democrats."
Kirk campaign spokesman Kevin Artl said he has no idea who the women are and questioned the authenticity of Applegate's story.
"Given the fact that the photo came from the Duckworth campaign and the individuals in the photo are not on our campaign staff, as Duckworth's campaign falsely alleged, we view this entire episode with great suspicion," Artl said.
He noted that anybody can get copies of campaign petitions; in Kirk's case, you can download them straight off of his website. As for the Kirk shirts, Artl said the campaign gives out free t-shirts at events all the time.
But if the women aren't affiliated with Kirk's campaign, why would they be collecting signatures for him in a Democratic stronghold, deceptively suggesting that he supports an issue popular among progressives?
In order to submit their petitions to the Kirk campaign, the women would have to sign them and get them notarized. If the women aren't identified, the fraudulently collected signatures might end up being counted toward Kirk's total. Kirk and Duckworth both need between 5,000 and 10,000 signatures to get on the March ballot. They have 90 days to collect them.
Duckworth beat Kirk in fundraising in the most recent quarter, raising $1.46 million compared to Kirk's $1.05 million. But Kirk, who has held his Senate seat since 2010 and served in the House of Representatives before that, has $3.62 million in cash on hand compared to Duckworth's $2.8 million.
An early poll showed Duckworth with an advantage, but found that she remains mostly unknown in the state.
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