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Thanks to Harry Weider for bringing this race to our atttention.
- Marvin Wasserman
Link to original content: http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0222/p10s01-uspo.html
For veteran Tammy Duckworth, latest fight is for a House seat
ELMHURST, ILL. - Tammy Duckworth is exceptionally upbeat.
It's a long way from where Ms. Duckworth was just a year ago: in a bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, unsure whether she'd walk again. In November 2004, she'd been injured when a grenade ripped through the helicopter she was flying in Iraq, ultimately losing both legs and partial movement in her right arm.
Now, Duckworth is a rising Democratic hopeful, the woman whom party leaders hope can take back the district Rep. Henry Hyde (R) is vacating after more than 30 years in office.
Of several Iraq war vets the Democratic Party is backing this year, she has arguably the highest profile, garnering national attention well before she's even competed in the party primary. But her campaign is attracting notice not just because of her veteran status. Rather, it's because the idea that a Democrat like Ms. Duckworth could represent Chicago's outer-ring western suburbs - once unthinkable in this Republican stronghold - has become a very real possibility.
Duckworth is a late entry to the race, since she was unable to officially enter until the Army released her from active duty in mid- December. If she's ever to test her mettle against a Republican, she'll have to prevail first over fellow Democrats Christine Cegelis, who won an impressive 44 percent of the vote against Hyde in 2004, and Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott in Illinois' March 21 primary.
But she's already won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and support from big-name Illinois politicians like Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And in the few weeks she had in the last quarter of 2005, she raised more than $120,000 - substantially more than either Democratic opponent. She still has far less money than Peter Roskam, the Republican she could face this fall, but the initial windfall bodes well for her future.
Democratic leaders hope that Duckworth's veteran status will help win voters in a district that is still conservative, though increasingly disenchanted with the Republican Party.
Duckworth is the first to acknowledge that her Iraq experience is what won her a spot in the race. But she tries to move the conversation to other issues - particularly education and healthcare - and her experience prior to Iraq, working at Rotary International and studying healthcare issues as a political science doctoral candidate.
Some of her substance, Duckworth says, comes from personal experiences: the $70,000 in student loans she graduated with, or her own experience needing medical care.
Duckworth also hopes that her lack of previous political involvement will allow her to reach across the partisan divide.
With a style that's down-to-earth, Duckworth is quick with self- deprecating humor and matter-of-fact references to her injuries. The biggest problem with her injured right arm, she tells some friends after a morning rally, is her inability to use chopsticks when eating sushi.
Later, she chats with a voter in a Starbucks about the upsides of being able to choose what size shoe she wanted for her prosthetic legs, which she now walks on with the help of a cane.
But she's eager to turn to more-serious topics, and comes across as smart and articulate while discussing taxes or the reasons she favors benchmarks, rather than a timeline, for withdrawal from Iraq.
Still, her political inexperience has caused some critics to suggest she is being used by the Democratic Party as an Iraq veteran poster girl, and to question why the party has supported Duckworth over her rival, Cegelis, who has more history in the district.
For her part, Cegelis is counting on her experience in the district to win the primary. Duckworth
Still, Cegelis says the attention Duckworth's entry has brought - from media as distant as The Times of London - is welcome.
That attention has helped Duckworth get some early name recognition. As she campaigns around Elmhurst - one of the few suburbs in her strip mall- and subdivision-heavy district with a downtown - several voters have heard of her.
Rebecca's father, Ron Gandy, whose nephew served in Iraq, is more persuaded:
The district Duckworth will need to win, in DuPage County and a bit of western Cook County, is a mix of affluent outlying suburbs and middle-class towns, home to the Christian Wheaton College and the more blue- collar enclaves around O'Hare Airport.
Always staunchly Republican, a combination of demographic shifts and disenchantment with the GOP among some voters has made it more competitive. Congressman Hyde's neighbor to the north, Phil Crane, was defeated in 2004 by Melissa Bean, in an area with similar political leanings.
Residents say the change is apparent.
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