Victorious Duckworth pledges to reach across the aisle
In the end, it wasn't close after all.
Democrat Tammy Duckworth sailed past charismatic Tea Partyer Joe Walsh to take the 8th Congressional District for the Democrats.
Winning didn't come without a fight, however. More than $6 million in outside funding poured in to pay for ads and mailers targeting Duckworth for defeat, making the nationally watched campaign one of the most expensive in the suburbs.
With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, Duckworth had 54 percent of the vote, compared to Walsh's 46 percent.
"You stood with me when others tried to buy this election," Duckworth said to supporters from her election night headquarters in Elk Grove Village. In Congress, the double-amputee Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient pledged to face challenges "as I always have."
Walsh, of McHenry, conceded from his election night headquarters in Addison, describing himself as "up against a candidate who'd had a district drawn for her by very powerful people. The fact that we contested makes me so, so proud."
Raja Krishnamoorthi, Duckworth's opponent in the Democratic primary, was on hand at her election night party, touting Duckworth's strengths.
"She's a voice of reason and moderation and a voice of unity at a time when we really need it," he said.
The race contrasted two candidates with markedly different campaigning styles, as well as on views from gun control to immigration to health care and taxes.
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.
While Walsh painted her as a lap dog of the Democratic administration, Duckworth maintained that if elected, she would use her status as a veteran to reach across the aisle.
The new 8th District stretches from Barrington Hills in the northwest to Oak Brook in the southeast and includes portions of Kane, Cook and DuPage counties. It contains large portions of the former 6th District where Duckworth ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Wheaton -- territory she overwhelmingly won.
Walsh, who defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean by 290 votes in 2010, saw his McHenry home remapped into a district with another Republican congressman. Last December, he announced he would run in the 8th instead, even though it would be tougher for a Republican to win.
His approach in a bid for a second term was anything but timid as month after month, he found himself in the middle of media firestorms for controversial comments he refused to apologize for.
Though she pledged to campaign on issues, Duckworth launched ads that referred to Walsh as a "deadbeat Joe," referencing a now-settled child support dispute between Walsh and his ex-wife Laura, and alleged Walsh had ties to a SuperPAC that is pouring millions into the Chicago media market.
Duckworth carried some political baggage of her own, baggage that Walsh seized upon -- a 2009 lawsuit filed against her as head of the Illinois Veterans Affairs, and the revelation that she had been improperly claiming primary homeowner exemptions on two different properties for several years in a row.
Late last month, Walsh made headlines by suggesting that medical advancements made abortions to save a mother's life medically unnecessary. While he vowed to spend the rest of the time before the election talking about the economy, Duckworth's lead widened as she tied Walsh to Republican U.S. Senate candidates Richard Mourdock, of Indiana, and Todd Akin, of Missouri, who had also threatened their viability in their respective races by making controversial statements about abortion.
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