Syrian refugees become issue in Illinois Senate race

WASHINGTON — A Republican senator in a tough re-election race is attacking his top Democratic rival for supporting more Syrian refugees in the U.S., marking the issue’s first appearance in Senate campaign advertising.

In the ad released Tuesday, GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois harshly criticizes Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth for voicing support for allowing as many as 200,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

“ISIS disguised as Syrian refugees attack Paris. Next target? The U.S.,” the ad says.

“Mark Kirk opposes more Syrian refugees until it can be done safely. For your family’s safety: Who do you trust?”

The Kirk campaign said about $180,000 is being spent to air the ad on TV, a relatively tiny sum. But his focus on the issue highlights the Republican view that it can be a vulnerability for Democrats, especially those like Duckworth who opposed recent GOP legislation cracking down on the refugee program.

Video by Mark Kirk

The ad’s claims are exaggerated. The Paris perpetrators were mostly French and Belgian nationals, although there was a Syrian passport found near one of their bodies. Authorities have suggested the passport was an Islamic State plant to sow fear of refugees.

Duckworth, a military veteran, has been outspoken about the need to show compassion to refugees, many of whom are women and young children themselves victimized by the Islamic State.

Her spokesman, Matt McGrath, said Kirk’s ad “appeals exclusively to fear and the lowest common denominator. He should be ashamed.”