As Democrat Tammy Duckworth and incumbent Republican senator Mark Kirk battle it out for the open senate seat in Illinois, eyes stay glued to the polls that are predicting a close race. While the attention is normally on policies, platform, and past experience, it’s impossible during this race not to pay attention to the potentially groundbreaking nature of the election: regardless of which nominee comes out on top, the winner will break ground in bringing to light the struggles of living with disabilities. Both Duckworth and Kirk are physically disabled and often use wheelchairs.
Naturally, when campaigning for a position in public political office in the United States, candidates often have issues regarding their health called into question. Hillary Clinton’s 9/11 collapse raised eyebrows and questions regarding her health. Historically, presidents have done their best to cover the tracks of disability–Franklin D. Roosevelt famously avoided being photographed in his wheelchair. In the cases of Duckworth and Kirk, disabilities are a non-issue; both candidates have determined that their candidacy shouldn’t be affected in the slightest because of disabilities. Refusing to be defined by their disabilities, Duckworth and Kirk haven’t chosen to let what they are capable characterize them, rather than what they aren’t.
Kirk’s accomplishments and capabilities certainly shine through when his record is examined. The native Illinoisan served in the military from 1989 until 2013, including multiple reserve deployments to Afghanistan in 2011. During his service, he earned numerous medals and honors, ascending to the rank of commander before retiring in May of 2013.
Between 2001 and 2010 Kirk served in the United States House of Representatives and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. During his tenure, Kirk sponsored or co-sponsored bills in a wide range of areas, including national security, international affairs and health, three of his biggest areas of concentration.
With a history of centrist voting, Kirk is considered by many to be a social moderate and a fiscal conservative. He was the only Republican senator to vote to bar those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms in late 2015.
Because of his strong background and track record during tenue, Kirk is seen by many to have a strong chance at retaining his senate seat despite polling slightly behind Duckworth recently. He has received endorsements from both the Human Rights Campaign as well as Americans for Responsible Solutions.