Duckworth back at Democratic convention, this time in a Senate race

The profile of the already closely watched race for U.S. Senate could rise this week with Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates set to speak Thursday at the main stage of the Democratic National Convention.

Her speech on Democrats' final day in Philadelphia will follow a talk with the state delegation today and contrasts with last week's Republican National Convention, where incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park steered clear of the event after loudly criticizing GOP nominee Donald Trump.

Duckworth spoke at the 2012 convention, too, in a speech that highlighted veterans issues, including her recovery after her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004.

Will that be a big part of the campaign in the fall? To a degree, she said, it's unavoidable.

"I think it's a part of my narrative," Duckworth said before the convention. "When I roll into a room, it's pretty obvious."

But she said what she wants to emphasize is what she has done since leaving Iraq.

Duckworth's run for Senate means a departure from her Northwest suburban 8th Congressional District, where she's finishing a second term. Expanding to a statewide race means taking on Kirk, a former suburban House member, who first won statewide six years ago.

They've spent much of the early campaign sparring via proxy. Kirk has tried to tie Duckworth to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who appointed her to lead the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, where she continues to be dogged by a lawsuit filed by two employees claiming she ignored reports of abuses of veterans. And for her part, Duckworth has been trying to tie Kirk to Trump.

"With Illinois running out of money like Puerto Rico, we see the danger of putting the Illinois Democrats in charge of our finances," Kirk said before the Republican convention.

Duckworth was first recruited to run for Congress in 2006 by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

"I'd rather be associated with Dick Durbin than I would with Donald Trump," she said.

That first race was a loss in an intensely competitive campaign to Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican who later rose into House Republican leadership. Duckworth first won her seat in the House by defeating conservative firebrand Joe Walsh in 2012. She then won re-election two years later over Republican Larry Kaifesh.

Chatter about a potential Duckworth Senate candidacy began during that race against Kaifesh.

"I am spending as much time as I can discouraging people from talking about it because I'm barely through my first term," she told the Daily Herald Editorial Board during an endorsement interview in 2014. "I just get a lot of folks who like to talk. You can be the flavor of the month. There will be a different flavor next month."

Duckworth says that what has changed was the birth of her daughter the same year, which she said made her re-evaluate what she could do to shape the world her child will grow up in.

"I really had no plans to run for Senate anytime in the near future," she said before the convention. "And I had this baby girl, and I looked at what this election cycle meant."

So far, Duckworth has raised more money than Kirk, according to the latest campaign finance reports, but if the Illinois race remains hot, outside groups' money could become a big part of the advertising push in the contest.

Nationally, both parties have turned a keen eye onto Illinois' race because it could play a role in the outcome of a battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Duckworth could get a boost from Illinois' recent history of voting Democratic at the top of the ballot. A victory for Kirk would be a sweet one for Republicans for bucking that trend.

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