One of the questions posed most frequently to conservative U.S. Senate hopeful Pat Hughes of Illinois is, with four other conservatives vying in the Republican primary February 2, why don’t they hold a summit and join forces behind one right-of-center opponent to the moderate-liberal front-runner, Rep. Mark Kirk (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 67%).
“We’ve held meetings just like what you’re talking about,” Hughes told me last week, “and the others end up asking me, ‘why don’t you be the one to get out?’ And I say no, because I’m the only conservative in this race who is actively raising money, and has 18 regional coordinators and 10 paid staffers.”
The case that the 40-year-old real estate developer made for himself as the “great right hope” did not persuade any of the other conservative hopefuls to defer to him. But with three weeks to go before the primary, Hughes is the lone GOP insurgent in the primary running TV commercials.
Like the Senate primary bids of Rep. Pat Toomey against then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in ’04 and that of former state House Speaker Marco Rubio against Gov. Charlie Crist this year, the candidacy of Hughes against Kirk is a showcase race of conservative insurgent against establishment moderate.
In citing his differences with Kirk, Hughes ticked off the congressman’s votes for Wall Street bailouts in ’08 (an issue that gained new luster last week as banking houses prepared to dole out million-dollar bonuses for retired executives), federal hate crimes legislation (which Kirk also co-sponsored), opposition to oil drilling in Alaska and off the coasts, and his pro-abortion stand. Hughes takes opposite positions on all of these issues.
But what Hughes hits Kirk hardest on is Kirk’s vote for the Democrat-backed “cap and trade” energy-tax bill — which made the Chicago-area lawmaker one of only eight Republicans and the lone GOP House member from Illinois to support the controversial measure.
“We already have an $11 billion budget deficit here in Illinois,” Hughes noted. “If ‘cap and trade’ became law, it would finish off our manufacturing industry and, in the process, wipe our state out. How anyone could justify a vote like that except to please the environmental left in his district is beyond me!”