The Iraq War veteran so scarred from a previous congressional loss that she vowed initially to never run again cruised to victory Tuesday night, with key support from the swath of suburbs that first backed her six years ago.
Tammy Duckworth's win over former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi sets the stage for the most nationally watched suburban race since her bitter, costly campaign against Republican Peter Roskam in 2006. She will square off against controversial Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh of McHenry in the November general election -- a battle, in many ways, that began weeks ago.
With a crowd of more than a hundred supporters chanting "Tammy," Duckworth said she will use her "bonus time to do what's right, in reference to the soldiers who carried her to safety when she was wounded in Iraq.
"The results are in and we are on our way to take on Joe Walsh," Duckworth said in declaring victory.
Krishnamoorthi congratulated Duckworth for conducting a "hard fought and clean fight," and pledged his full support to her in her campaign against Walsh in the fall.
"In life there are no disappointments, there is only the next appointment," Krishnamoorthi said in conceding defeat.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Duckworth had 67 percent of the vote to Krishnamoorthi's 33 percent.
Duckworth, who ran the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs prior to President Barack Obama appointing her assistant secretary of veterans affairs in 2009, campaigned on the platform that her Washington connections and childhood financial struggles would make her an effective congresswoman. Krishnamoorthi, an executive for a Bolingbrook laboratory who also lives in Hoffman Estates, argued that he had the small business experience needed to help put the economy back on track.
According to 2010 census figures, the 8th Congressional District has a 12 percent Asian population and has been described by Krishnamoorthi as the "most Asian district in the Midwest." But despite a strong and vocal presence from the South Asian groups who fueled much of Krishnamoorthi's fundraising and grass-roots support, old allegiances ultimately won out.
The new 8th District contains 55 percent of the former 6th Congressional District where Duckworth ran in 2006 -- territory that she overwhelmingly won, while losing more traditional DuPage County Republican strongholds. The 8th District now stretches from Addison to Elgin, and includes Addison, Hanover and Elk Grove townships.
"They know her. They've seen her name before she announced her candidacy," Democratic strategist Kitty Kurth said. Kurth called today's election a "more pure Democratic primary," with many suburban independent voters pulling Republican ballots to make a presidential pick.
Weeks before Duckworth declared her candidacy, Krishnamoorthi had already secured endorsements from a host of local committeemen and county Democratic chairs.
Yet Duckworth never displayed concern or hurried to make up for lost time. Her broad network of donors allowed her to quickly match Krishnamoorthi's war chest. By the end of last month, she had raised $1.28 million, besting Krishnamoorthi's $1.15 million.
Expect the upcoming 8th District race in November to surpass any previous fundraising records, Kurth warns.
At least one Super PAC -- San Francisco-based Credo Super PAC -- has pledged to enter the race to work to defeat Walsh.
Duckworth says she'll stand by an earlier pledge against Super PAC funding help -- as long as Walsh does the same. He has not yet responded.
Duckworth described Walsh and other Republicans' politics as a reason she stepped back into the game.
Several of her mail pieces directly attacked Walsh, from his stances on abortion rights to a town hall outburst.
Walsh, too, has called on Duckworth to reveal her stance on President Obama's budget, describing her lack of response as "ducking" the issue -- a campaign strategy he also used in 2010 to defeat three-term Democrat Melissa Bean, of Barrington.