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updated: 3/22/2012 12:16 AM

Duckworth and Walsh poised to come out fighting

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  • Tammy Duckworth meets voters Rebecca Martinez, 26, of Rolling Meadows, right, and Laura Warkenthien, 19, of Mount Prospect, at a Rolling Meadows restaurant Wednesday, the day after Duckworth won the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District.

       Tammy Duckworth meets voters Rebecca Martinez, 26, of Rolling Meadows, right, and Laura Warkenthien, 19, of Mount Prospect, at a Rolling Meadows restaurant Wednesday, the day after Duckworth won the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Congressman Joe Walsh's campaign strategy against Duckworth is so far focusing on her Obama ties.

       Congressman Joe Walsh's campaign strategy against Duckworth is so far focusing on her Obama ties.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Duckworth greets constituents

 
 

During an election-night speech, Tammy Duckworth's opponent congratulated her on a "hard-fought and clean fight" in her successful bid to be the 8th Congressional District's Democratic nominee.

The primary election race that ended Tuesday was largely a civil one, with Duckworth and opponent Raja Krishnamoorthi, both of Hoffman Estates, using their respective backgrounds to distinguish themselves for voters in the newly drawn district centered in Schaumburg and stretching from Addison to Elgin.

As Duckworth shifts her focus toward November, a far different type of race lies in store.

The Iraq War veteran and former Obama administration official's faceoff against Tea Party firebrand Joe Walsh of McHenry in the general election will be in the national spotlight as a race with mammoth amounts of money and party pride on the line.

DePaul professor and political media strategist Bruce Newman predicts both candidates will spend the next few months spinning unflattering images of one another, strategies they already had begun to "test market" in the last weeks of the primary season.

Walsh and camp are poised to portray Duckworth as a government bureaucrat who can't make decisions without consulting Democratic bigwigs like the president, strategist David Axelrod, or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Duckworth and fellow Democrats, in turn, plan to amp up her statements pegging Walsh as a loose cannon who'd rather fight with liberal talk show hosts than work toward consensus.

In a Wednesday conference call, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put the 8th District at the very top of its list of 25 key races that will help Democrats take back the House majority.

"It's one of the most important races in the country, one of the most glaring contrasts in the country," DCCC Chairman Steve Israel said.

In mailers and ads, Duckworth has branded Walsh, known for his charismatic candor and caustic rhetoric, as "extreme."

"We need a public servant in Congress ... not a public embarrassment," Duckworth said in one mailer, featuring pictures of Walsh shouting during a suburban town hall meeting.

Israel furthered that statement Wednesday, describing Walsh as "so extreme he's doubling down on his extremism," Israel said. "He cares more about shouting on cable television than he does about creating jobs or protecting Medicare for senior citizens."

Attacking Duckworth, a former military pilot who lost her legs when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter she was flying, is a bit more of a minefield for Walsh, though a battle he's already begun waging with care.

To avoid the boomerang effect of personal attacks against a war hero, Newman said, "the only other formidable attack is an anti-Obama attack, since Obama has really supported her."

Walsh has pressed for weeks for Duckworth to publicly reveal her stance on President Obama's budget to him, and after her victory Tuesday, he immediately challenged her to a series of town hall-style debates beginning next month. Accusing his opponent of "ducking" the issues and "hiding" from the public was a successful strategy Walsh employed in defeating three-term Democrat Melissa Bean, of Barrington, in 2010.

"I'm going to demand that she gets in front of voters these eight months and not hide behind Axelrod and these guys who think she's hand-picked," Walsh said Wednesday.

The 8th District contains about 55 percent of the former 6th District where Duckworth ran against Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam in 2006 -- the portion where she was strongest.

It also contains about 20 percent of Walsh's current Northwest suburban district in Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

"There is some overlap," Walsh said, noting he's "going to go out and do what I did the last campaign. ... There has not been a member of Congress who holds more town halls."

Walsh has the advantage of help from Roskam, the Wheaton Republican who successfully defeated Duckworth in the bitter, costly 2006 race.

Roskam helped Walsh raise close to $100,000 at a private fundraiser in Barrington Hills last week.

Though the DCCC calls it a race that it is "very comfortable" it will win, Duckworth said she's not taking anything for granted.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter what Chairman Israel thinks, what I think, what Joe Walsh thinks," she said. "It only matters what the individual voter in that voting booth thinks. And we won't know until November. All I can do is listen and get out there and present my plans."

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