[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/29/art.kirk.file.gi.jpg caption="Senate hopeful Mark Kirk apologized Tuesday for mischaracterizing his military record."]Washington (CNN) – Rep. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican hoping to capture President Obama's old Senate seat in November, apologized Tuesday for mischaracterizing his military record.
"I've made mistakes when characterizing certain aspects of my accomplishments and experiences. I apologize for my mistakes and I pledge to correct any errors. I am not perfect, and I was careless. I will do better and make sure this never happens again," Kirk said.
The initial controversy began weeks ago, after his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, raised questions about a naval award Kirk claimed to have received. The Kirk campaign and the candidate himself falsely claimed he was awarded the Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year Award – a prestigious honor that is given to only one individual a year.
Six days after the allegations came to light, Kirk apologized to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, saying the discrepancies were the result of trying to communicate his accomplishments in "civilian-speak."
But the initial apology failed to stop additional questions about his service record – questions Kirk has largely avoided. Local Chicago media outlets reported that after his last campaign appearance, Kirk escaped reporters' questions by quickly exiting the event through a kitchen.
The Giannoulias campaign, which earlier this year waged its own public relations battle following the failure of a bank owned by the candidate's family, issued their own statement Tuesday.
"Congressman Kirk wasn't careless and he didn't misremember – he lied. One mistake is careless. Misrepresenting, embellishing or not telling the truth about 10 different phases of your military career over a 10-year period is a pattern of lies, plain and simple," Giannoulias campaign spokesman Matt McGrath said.
Kirk also used Tuesday's press conference to attempt to steer his campaign back on track, saying the election still boils down to a choice.
"This election will come down to a clear choice between two people and two very different directions of where to take our country and our state. I think my views are more in line with the voters of Illinois. I think we should tax less, spend less, create jobs, protect our environment and clean up corruption," Kirk said.
Kirk and Giannoulias are seeking the seat currently held by Sen. Roland Burris, who decided not to pursue the Democratic nomination.
-CNN's Alexander Mooney contributed to this report