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updated: 10/19/2012 8:59 AM

Walsh, Duckworth tone down harsh rhetoric at final debate

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  • United States 8th Congressional District candidates Democrat Tammy Duckworth and Republican Rep. Joe Walsh debated for the fourth and final time at WTTW-11 studios.

       United States 8th Congressional District candidates Democrat Tammy Duckworth and Republican Rep. Joe Walsh debated for the fourth and final time at WTTW-11 studios.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth waits for the start of a televised debate against U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh at the WTTW studios Thursday in Chicago.

      Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth waits for the start of a televised debate against U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh at the WTTW studios Thursday in Chicago.
    Associated Press

  • Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh and challenger Democrat Tammy Duckworth wait for the start of a televised debate at the WTTW studios Thursday in Chicago.

      Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh and challenger Democrat Tammy Duckworth wait for the start of a televised debate at the WTTW studios Thursday in Chicago.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Duckworth, Walsh debate

  • Video: Walsh on issues

 
By Kerry Lester
Politics and Projects Writer
klester@dailyherald.com

Perhaps they can play nice, after all.

Following a vitriolic exchange before a live crowd last week, the fourth and final debate between Republican Congressman Joe Walsh and Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth displayed the gentler sides of the two candidates who actually exchanged niceties as the WTTW-11 program got under way.

"Mr. Walsh loves this country. That will go a long way toward serving the people of this district," Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, said in response to moderator Eddie Arruza's request to compliment one another.

Walsh, of McHenry -- who, over the summer, came under fire after criticizing Duckworth, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, for excessively talking about her military record -- noted "campaigns can get personal" and said he respects Duckworth's military service.

Duckworth interrupted Walsh at times, and inserted a jab about her opponent's "irresponsible" and controversial comments, but under Arruza's guidance, the two stuck largely to the issues, where they, in soft tones, contrasted in virtually every area.

Walsh said he wants to reform entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, so they're around in the future.

Duckworth, in turn, said she wasn't going to cut the guarantee of either program, advocating instead for defense cuts that she said would take billions from the federal budget.

Walsh wants a limited federal government that is focused on protecting freedoms. Duckworth called for "defense of the nation, public good, and social safety net programs." If, Duckworth said, "you're on your needs ... they should be there for you."

The two candidates also present stark contrasts on abortion rights.

Duckworth describes herself as "pro-choice without restrictions."

Walsh is pro-life "without exception" -- including in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

"There's still a life there," he said.

His comments at a news conference following the debate that "with modern technology you can't find one instance" to make an exception for an abortion, caught the attention of San-Fransisco-based CREDO SuperPAC, which opposes his campaign. In an overnight email blast, they compared Walsh to Missouri Republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin, who made headlines this summer for comments about legitimate rape.

Arruza also asked the candidates how the country should respond to increasing military threats from Iran.

Walsh called for military action as a "last option if sanctions don't work."

Duckworth, who lost her legs when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter she was flying in 2004 in Iraq, said a military option "should be on the table. She also said she'd sign up for service, joking that she'd be 'the first gimpy lieutenant colonel. ... Maybe they'll have me wash windows.'"

In the last week, Walsh, of McHenry, has hammered away at Duckworth for a wrongful termination suit that two employees of a veterans home filed against her and another official when she was head of the Illinois Veterans Affairs. Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, has alleged ties between Walsh and a SuperPAC supporting his campaign that is primarily funded by an organization he helped found in the late 1990s.

But those attacks went unmentioned Thursday, as both candidates pledged to reach across the aisle if elected last month, Walsh, perhaps more so than during his first term.

The candidates were also asked how long elected officials -- including Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who is recovering from a stroke, and Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, who is being treated for a bipolar disorder -- should remain out of office.

Both candidates said officials should be given time to recover, provided they are open and transparent with their constituents. Walsh noted there "seems to be some issues" with Jackson -- a Chicago Democrat's -- openness.

Duckworth praised Kirk, noting he is fighting a battle "every single day valiantly."

There are less than two weeks to go in the race which has attracted nationwide attention and millions in outside spending.

The 8th Congressional District is roughly centered in Schaumburg and includes portions of Kane, Cook and DuPage counties.

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