If U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) emerges as the 2016 Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, incumbent Republican Mark Kirk faces an enormous challenge holding onto his seat, a new poll suggests.
A June 23 survey of 598 likely 2016 Illinois voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider, found that Duckworth leads Kirk 43.8-27.3% or 16.5 points.
The poll, conducted by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry, had a significant 28.9% of voters undecided.
The survey had a margin of error of +/- 4.09%.
Kirk's weakness vis-à-vis Duckworth seems to be explained by a dismal job approval rating.
The poll found that just 16.9% of likely voters approved of Kirk's handling of his job and 31.1% disapproved, but a whopping 52% were undecided about his job performance.
Ogden & Fry was the only firm to predict Governor Bruce Rauner's 5-point victory over Governor Pat Quinn in 2014 and the firm accurately predicted the results the 2015 Chicago mayor's race. In it's last weekly survey on April 3 of that contest, Ogden & Fry estimated that Rahm Emanuel would grab 56.6% and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia 43.4%. The actual results saw Emanuel win 332,171 votes or 56.23% and Garcia, 258,562, or 43.77%.
The survey comes on the heels of Kirk's embarrassing gaffe on June 11 in which he referred to fellow Republican Senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as the "bro with no ho." Graham is unmarried.
A predictable media firestorm ignited and Kirk was forced to apologize for the private remarks that were caught on a live microphone, but not before Duckworth and her Democratic allies pounced and attacked the first-term senator for his comments.
The new poll stands in contrast to a December 18, 2014 We Ask America survey of 1,003 voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer in which it showed Duckworth with a miniscule ½ point lead over Kirk, 45.59-45.02% and 9.39% undecided. That poll had a +/- 3.09% margin of error.
Since December, Kirk's support has shifted to the "undecided" column.
Kirk and the Illinois Republican Party view Duckworth, a second-term congresswoman from Hoffman Estates, and an Iraq war hero, as their toughest general election opponent. The Illinois GOP regularly pummels Duckworth in a flood of press statements.
Before Duckworth can focus on Kirk, she faces a primary challenge next March from Chicago Urban League president Andrea Zopp, who was recruited by ex-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, but a May 16 poll of 1,051 Democratic primary voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer found that Duckworth lead Daley's candidate by 45 points, 50.1-.05%. Still, this week Zopp's campaign leaked that it had already raised $665,000, a formidable sum.
Meanwhile, in the current survey, Kirk can take solace in the fact that Duckworth has failed to add to her support since December and has, crucially, not crossed the 50% mark - so far.
Additionally, Kirk holds a substantial cash advantage over Duckworth at the moment. In the first quarter of 2015, Kirk raised $1,000,000; spent $210,100; and ended with $2,833,151 in the bank. Duckworth raised $155,443 for her new senate campaign account; she transferred $1,047,134 from her House campaign fund; spent a negligible $4,183; and had $1,198,000 in the bank at the end of March.
Still, in March, Washington D.C.'s insider publication, The Hill, ranked Kirk, who is firmly backed by Governor Bruce Rauner, as the most vulnerable senator in the 2016 cycle.
Nothing in our new poll challenges that ranking.
David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.