THE RACE for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois features two candidates with inspiring personal stories.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a massive stroke in January 2012, days after visiting Quincy and barely a year into his term. He underwent several surgeries and a year of agonizing rehabilitation -- relearning how to walk, talk and stand on his own -- before returning to Washington.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth lost her legs and some use of her right arm when the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down over Iraq in 2004. She spent more than a year recuperating in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
However, the race between Kirk and Duckworth is about more than two candidates who have overcome disabilities to continue to serve their country. The outcome could help decide the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans now hold a 54-46 majority.
Furthermore, the winner will serve in a Congress that continues to be gridlocked by partisanship and faces serious economic, social and foreign policy challenge. A reasoned, pragmatic and knowledgeable voice will best serve Illinois and the nation.
Kirk, a social moderate and fiscal conservative, is our choice. A centrist Republican, he has demonstrated during his decade in the U.S. House and six years in the Senate to be a consensus builder committed to finding sensible solutions to problems facing Illinois and the country.
"I have always put Illinois ahead of my party," Kirk said during a stop in Quincy in August. "Washington needs independence from political party and a willingness to compromise, not more partisan rubber stamps who take direction from party bosses to maintain power, corruption and status quo."
Kirk served in the U.S. House, representing the Democratic-leaning north Chicago suburbs, for 10 years before being elected in 2010 to the seat vacated two years earlier by President Barack Obama. He previously served on the staff of U.S. Rep. John Porter, as a special assistant in the State Department and as counsel for the House International Relations Committee.
Kirk has been a staunch supporter of Republican stances on government spending and taxation, preferring to "spend less, tax less and borrow less." A Navy veteran, he is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. He contends veterans' care is now funded at record levels, and whistle-blowers at veterans care facilities have greater protections when they report dangerous conditions.
However, his most high-profile break with his party came when he was the first Republican senator to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. He urged fellow GOP senators, to no avail, to conduct hearings and vote on the president's selection in the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
In West-Central Illinois, Kirk believes funding the Mid-America Intermodal Port along the Mississippi River south of Quincy is a critical step for future economic development of the region. He also has long been a supporter of updating the nation's lock-and-dam system and protecting the Renewable Fuel Standards to boost ethanol production to aid the vital agriculture industry.
Kirk has been guilty of some embarrassing slips of the tongue in recent months, but those missteps should not undermine what has been a solid legislative career.
Duckworth was elected in 2012 to represent the 8th District in suburban Chicago. She previously served for two years as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and for two years as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
Duckworth has compiled a thin legislative record during her time in Congress. Her campaign for the Senate has yet to visit West-Central Illinois, raising questions on whether she understands the critical issues facing this region of the state.
Like Kirk, she is a strong supporter of the military, but she also wants to expand the Affordable Care Act and increase taxes on the wealthy. Duckworth has called for more infrastructure investment, although she has not said how she would pay for it. The most important consideration in deciding who can best represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate must be that Kirk has a proven track record and is considered one of the most thoughtful and independent members of Congress.
We believe Sen. Mark Kirk has earned a second term in the U.S. Senate.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that Duckworth has had no bills pass through committee. Two pieces of sponsored legislation, the Clay Hunt SAV Act and Troop Talent Act, have been signed into law. Two other pieces of legislation have passed either the House or Senate and one has passed through committee.