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Tradition holds that Kirk will continue to hold his seat in the Senate while recovering from the stroke. Democrats currently have a 51-47 advantage in the chamber, including the two independents who caucus with the party.

Kirk, a Naval reserve commander, won Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for the Republican Party in 2010 after a hard-fought election during which the moderate from Chicago’s northern suburbs had to make the transition to a statewide candidate who had to appeal to more conservative voters.

Kirk won the seat by campaigning as the level-headed voice of experience facing a young Democrat, citing his five previous terms in Congress.

Upon reaching the Senate, Kirk landed a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee and late last year joined forces with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey in imposing crippling sanctions on Iran.

The two senators sponsored an amendment to the annual defense bill that targets foreign financial institutions that do business with the Central Bank in Tehran. In a rare unanimous vote, the Senate backed the measure 100-0. Obama signed the wide-ranging defense bill with the sanctions on New Year’s eve.

Associated Press writers Tammy Webber and Lindsey Tanner in Chicago, Christopher Wills in Springfield and Andrew Taylor and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.