Fighting words: Duckworth, Walsh prepare for national spotlight

Campaigns expected to be expensive, exhausting

Just days into their campaigns, the two very different candidates for the 8th Congressional District already were baring their teeth for the fight ahead.

Iraq War veteran and former Obama administration member Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates squares off against prolific Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh of McHenry in a district that is centered on Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg but has tentacles stretching to the Barrington area, Elgin, and central DuPage County.

While Duckworth, the winner in Tuesday's Democratic primary, says she can better connect with voters and brands her opponent as “extreme,” Walsh says he'll put himself in front of district residents day after day to beat a candidate he says was hand-picked by top Democrats.

In separate one-on-one interviews — Duckworth in a sit-down at a Rolling Meadows diner, and Walsh by phone from Washington, D.C., where he was casting votes this week — the opponents outlined their perspectives on the battle ahead.

Democrat Tammy Duckworth, former assistant secretary of veterans affairs

'I've never backed down from a fight'

Q. You and 8th District Democratic primary opponent Raja Krishnamoorthi conducted largely civil campaigns this spring. Looking toward the fall, do you hope for the same?

A. I can certainly hope for it. I'm going to focus on the issues, I'm going to focus on talking to the constituents. Now, I've never backed down from a fight in my life, but that's not my main point of running. I'm not running to engage in a real tough campaign. I'm going to talk to the voters and talk to my neighbors and keep the focus on my neighbors and the challenges they face.

Q. You have said in the past that because of your experience in Iraq you're purposely avoiding words like “fight” and “war” in your bid for Congress. Joe Walsh uses words like fight and war a lot. Do you see yourself bringing that up?

A. He's got to be himself. If he wants to use that language he can. I'm going to be myself.

Having been through what I've been through, I'm a lot more calm ... it doesn't mean I don't care deeply. It just means I'm going to find a way to get a practical solution before I start yelling and screaming. I'm going to let the constituents decide what they prefer.

Q.You challenged Krishnamoorthi to reject the influence of Super PAC cash in the primary, similar to the agreement between Massachusetts Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown. With the knowledge a Super PAC is coming into the area to work to defeat Walsh, do you plan to extend your challenge to him?

A. We're going to take a look at that and see. We haven't made up our minds yet. Part of this is looking at how the Super PAC Challenge is going in Massachusetts, as well.

Q. Walsh has criticized you for being what he calls a “government bureaucrat.” How do you respond?

A. I am proud of the work I've done as a public servant in government. I am proud of the $600 tax credit we put in place in Illinois that put hundreds of veterans back to work, that we cut the number of homeless veterans in half at the federal level ... I am willing to put that record of accomplishment, of continuous public service, against anything Joe Walsh has done in his time in Congress.

Q. What's your strategy in a nutshell?

A. Listening, talking about jobs, about support for small businesses and what I can do to best serve the people who live where I do.

Q. Is criticizing proposed Republican cuts to Medicare a big part of that formula?

A. If I talk about Medicare it's going to be in the context of the economy, in the context of the budget. It's going to be how we're going to not balance the nation's budget on the backs of seniors and our most vulnerable. (Instead we need to) reduce our deficit by looking at giveaways to large corporations that take jobs away from the U.S.

Q.. Walsh has called repeatedly for your stance on President Obama's budget. Is that something you plan to reveal?

A. I was engaged in my primary. I owed the respect to Raja to focus on the race we had. ... I don't agree with everything that's in the president's budget — I strongly oppose the increase in the premiums military retirees have to pay for Tricare. I think the president missed the boat when he did not allow a provision for Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. I'm not going to Washington to agree with the president on everything, but I'm also not going to say no to (Republican House Speaker) John Boehner on everything.

Q. What lessons have you learned from 2006 that you'll employ this time around?

A. I've learned how nasty the other side can get and how much money they're willing to bring in. My best thing to do is to be myself, to continue to talk to the constituents, but to also understand sometimes it's not (just) about the two candidates.

Republican Congressman Joe Walsh

‘I'm the kind of guy who can win it'

Q. Democratic Congressional Committee Chair Steve Israel puts the Illinois 8th District at the very top of its list of districts it plans to “win back” in the fall. What do you think of that?

A. I don't think he has any clue as to how voters in this state feel. I'm no dummy. I know that the Democrats drew a district, they drew a number of districts to try to get (more) Democrats elected. They drew this 8th to get Tammy Duckworth elected, they basically drew this district for her. If I'm Raja Krishnamoorthi I'm offended at that. I think most voters are offended at that. Steve Israel, (Democratic strategist) David Axelrod, don't tell me who my representative is going to be.

Q.Tell us more about why you issued an election night challenge to Duckworth.

A. I didn't just issue a challenge just because I thought it would be good copy. I'm going to demand that she gets in front of voters these next seven months and not hide behind Axelrod and these guys who think she's hand-picked.

Q.Accusing your opponent of “hiding” was a strategy you successfully employed against three-term Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean of Barrington, wasn't it?

A. You call it a strategy. Two things — it was by necessity against Bean, and it's one I truly believe. Melissa Bean hid in her house for 8 months. Organically, voters recoiled against that.

Tammy Duckworth, if she is going to be advised by her handlers to do the same thing, not to get in front of voters, well, voters are going to recoil against that. If she took me up on my challenge, if we began debates, throughout (the next seven months) as many as we can, that's what I want. I don't want her hiding out.

Q. Duckworth last month challenged you and her primary election opponent Raja Krishnamoorthi to reject the influence of Super PAC money. How do you feel about that?

A. I didn't know she issued that challenge to me. Here's my opinion on it. What I think voters in this district deserve is an honest and instant disclosure of everybody who puts money into this campaign. I challenge Tammy with me to instantly disclose everyone who gives us money. Whether within the district or outside. That's the campaign finance reform we need and then voters can decide if they're upset.

Q. Republican cuts to Medicare seem to be a big part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's strategy to take back House seats across the country. How are you going to respond to those criticisms?

A. Everyone in Washington knows Medicare is on a path to insolvency. You've got one side, the House Republicans, who have proposed something to do something about it. Democrats have refused and just play politics.

Q. Your new district is very different from the one you currently represent — manufacturing heavy, less rural, more Democratic leaning, and a full 55 percent of the district Duckworth ran in against Peter Roskam in 2006. How are you going to campaign in it?

A. Well, remember the new district contains about one-fifth of my current district. There is some overlap. You know me. I'm going to do what I did the last campaign. There would not be a member of Congress who holds more town halls. To date I've done north of 20 or so already in the new district. I'll be out 10 hours every day. I'm convinced that this new district — just like the current 8th — is full of working class folks who are out of work losing homes and scared about debt.

Q. Talk about the help you expect from Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, who has experience running against Duckworth, and now stands at the top of the Illinois Congressional Delegation.

A. Peter, as he loves to tell me, is all in. It's genuine. I think Peter believes like all the Republican leadership believes this is a tough district. I think Peter and the party believe I'm the kind of guy who can win it. Peter especially can be a huge help.

  Tammy Duckworth cites connections with voters and her Washington track record as reasons she should be elected over Republican Joe Walsh in the 8th Congressional District in November. George LeClaire/
  Illinois congressman Joe Walsh says that though the new Illinois 8th district is expected by some to lean Democratic, he can win with his message and hard work. Laura Stoecker/
  Tammy Duckworth speaks to her supporters in Elk Grove Village after winning the 8th Congressional District Democratic primary. George LeClaire/
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