Politico's David Catanese has, with the help of a Democratic operative, unearthed a fascinating memo from Illinois GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk that shows him moving right to avoid getting squashed by the Tea Party. But while Kirk's campaign is trying to downplay the memo, the candidate ought to be patting himself on the back for grasping what many of his fellow party members failed to grasp.
Here's a taste of the memo from the Politico story:
"Eric - Taskers — I am concerned that we are meat on the table for the next moderate victim. Fast work will point the gun elsewhere. I canceled the health care press due to the damage to the moderate label.... We can work FAST with Jason to communicate with conservative elites that we are the only candidate that can take the president's Senate seat, leading to a tough go in the next two months but smart conservatives want the humiliation of the White House when and where it counts."
In essence, Kirk—who at the time was still running for the GOP nomination—looked at a special election in upstate New York and realized there was a tide of antipathy building against moderate Republicans. In that race, establishment nominee Dede Scozzafava was forced out of the race by the more conservative Doug Hoffman (Hoffman went on to lose to Democrat Bill Owens).
Kirk's camp didn't deny the memo, although an aide told Politico they couldn't confirm it was real. It's understandable that Kirk doesn't want to be painted with the pandering brush. But the memo doesn't betray any notable flip-flops; it just suggests that the campaign ought to downplay certain positions, including those on health-care reform.
What it does show is that Kirk was able to see that he couldn't survive by running to the center, even in usually Democratic Illinois. That's a realization that escaped Lisa Murkowski, Mike Castle, Sue Lowden, and other establishment GOP picks. And there shouldn't be any shame in political perspicacity.
Kirk, who's vying for the seat vacated by President Obama, is now locked in an extremely tight race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.