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Mark Kirk, Dodgeball King

  You've gotta hand it to him.  U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk's no-show at the Illinois Republican Party's lovefest for Sarah Palin was a political masterstroke.

  The Northshore Congressman claimed "prior voting commitments" hundreds of miles away in Washington, D.C. for his absence at the Rosemont fundraiser that featured the half-term Alaska Governor, former GOP vice presidential candidate and author spewing her brand of new age, tea party-style conservatism.

  Observing Kirk's absence with some frustration were strategists for democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias.  Assuming that most voters in "blue state" Illinois don't subscribe to Palin's right wing views, a major component of their campaign is to link Kirk to the conservative elements of the republican party base.  Both sides share the theory that the Congressman will need to combine that base with independents and straying democrats to beat Giannoulias in the fall.

  "When it comes to Sarah Palin and Mark Kirk, the two of them could not be closer in their opposition to President Obama and the major issues that I think Illinois families want to hear about," said Giannoulias campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Strand.

  But so far, Kirk has kept his public distance from the most conservative elements of his own party.  

  On the day of the Palin visit the Congressman e-mailed his supporters a missive titled Doing what's right.  He recalled how in the past he "stood up" to powers of his own party and "joined with Democratic colleagues" on issues while claiming his belief that "our country needs leaders who do what's right regardless of party or politics".

  If Kirk had attended the Palin event and appeared within three feet of her, the snapshots and video would have been a cinch to be used in Giannoulias mailers and TV commercials later in the campaign.  The same way that photo of the Congressman and former President George Bush is used in ads we've seen already.

  The Republican candidate is watching the company he keeps.

  Forever, the artful dodger. 


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