U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk might not have attracted a visible opponent in his Senate bid if he hadn't bucked his party in backing President Barack Obama's cap-and-trade legislation this summer.
That is what Republican challenger Patrick Hughes told the Daily Herald editorial board Wednesday.
"I had no interest in this race. I hadn't considered running ... then Mark Kirk voted for cap-and-trade," said Hughes, a Hinsdale real estate developer.
Hughes has gained traction with endorsements from anti-abortion rights groups and several conservative icons in his bid to win the GOP nomination for Obama's old Senate seat.
Kirk has secured the backing of most of the party establishment, including the state party chairman, in the seven-candidate primary field.
Aside from cap-and-trade, there are a number of hot-button issues Hughes and Kirk disagree on.
For one, Hughes is against gun control. Kirk has supported it. Hughes also opposes legalized abortion while Kirk supports abortion rights.
But Hughes said those social issues didn't get him pumped enough to run against Kirk, because he knew those differences wouldn't be enough to beat a five-term congressman.
"In order to win an election, you have to be able to distinguish the candidates," Hughes said. "To me the social issues wouldn't be enough to win."
After announcing his candidacy for Senate in July, Kirk backtracked on cap-and-trade, a measure that will tax carbon emissions in an attempt to reduce global warming.
Kirk said he supported it as a way to wean America off foreign oil. Yet, he has since signed a pledged with a conservative group to oppose the legislation if elected to the Senate.
Hughes says he doesn't believe global warming is caused by humans. But his platform against Kirk is bigger than cap-and-trade now.
"Our party is at a crossroads," Hughes declared to the editorial board, before labeling Kirk "essentially a Democrat and in some respects an extraordinarily left-wing one."
Kirk has won his North suburban 10th District under intense attack from Democrats by portraying an image as an independent moderate. He has secured backing from environmental groups, pro-abortion rights organizations and gun-control advocates.
Now opponents like Hughes are clearly taking aim as he steps onto a broader playing field.
Republican officials who support Kirk say his positions that fall outside party doctrine will only help him win statewide in this Democratic-leaning state.
Hughes takes issue with that. He argues that if the whole Republican base is backing a statewide candidate in the general election, they can win.
"There ... should be a place here," Hughes says, "for the Republican Party's true values."
The other candidates in the Senate GOP primary include former downstate judge Don Lowery of Golconda, Chicago blogger Andy Martin, Springfield activist Kathleen Thomas, former Harvey alderman John Arrington and Rockford businessman Robert Zadek.
The primary is Feb. 2.