Congressman Joe Walsh and his 8th District opponent, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, officially met for the first time Friday night at their first debate at WGN studios in Chicago, just minutes before going onto the set.
But the pair didn't mince words, working quickly to respectively brand one another as an out-of-touch lap dog of the Democratic administration and an "extreme" Tea Partyer with "crackpot" ideas, together confirming predictions that a nationally watched barnburner's in store for the Cook, Kane and DuPage County district stretching from Addison to Elgin.
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"You call repeatedly call Medicare a Ponzi scheme," Duckworth said during the CLTV debate, saying all Walsh has done in office is criticize President Barack Obama.
"You may disagree with what (Republican Paul) Ryan says about Medicare, but holy cow, I would rather be standing with a plan than with a president who has no plan," Walsh responded.
Unlike the Democratic primary, where it was often difficult to discern where Duckworth and her opponent, Raja Krishnamoorthi, diverged on the issues, Duckworth and Walsh butted heads on virtually every topic raised, including gay marriage, women's contraception, job creation policies and structural tax reform.
"I'm glad you're sleeping on your (office) couch, I'm glad you're frugal. But you have not accomplished anything in Washington," Duckworth said, describing a number of Walsh's ideas as "crackpot" -- which he portrayed as personal.
"Balance the budget, have a government that lives within its means. Don't step on their freedoms," Walsh said. "I think we'll find out where the majority of this country stands (on that). That's not crackpot."
On the heels of President Barack Obama's statements that he supports gay marriage, Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when a grenade hit the helicopter she was piloting, said she became a supporter of gay marriage when she was recovering in Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in 2004, noting how important it was to have her husband by her side.
Walsh said he believes marriage is fundamentally between one man and one woman but is a "distraction" from jobs and the economy.
Walsh, one of the House freshman class's most prolific members of the Tea Party movement, called job creation policies perhaps the area where he and Duckworth "most fundamentally differ" on the issues.
While Duckworth favors investing in capital projects and giving tax credits to businesses that hire veterans, Walsh said government's role should be to "give me the rules of the world and then get out of the way."
He argued against temporary tax credits, and for cutting taxes and getting rid of regulations.
While Duckworth cited businesses in the 8th District that said credits would help them, Walsh shot back, noting he "didn't know who she was talking to in the 8th District."
On health care reform, Walsh said the Supreme Court "had better" overturn the controversial legislation -- noting the driver of debt is health care costs for the country's aging population. Duckworth said she favored taking other cost saving measures -- letting Bush-era tax cuts expire and fixing some problematic aspects of the legislation, such as the heavy burden on businesses that have high numbers of employees.
The 8th District contains about 55 percent of the former 6th District where Duckworth ran against Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton 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.
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. And Republicans are doing everything they can to make sure that doesn't happen. All eyes are on this race.
Walsh has challenged Duckworth to one debate a month between the Illinois March primary and the general election in November. Duckworth has said she will do up to four debates with Walsh.