Zopp criticizes Duckworth record during Democratic Senate debate
In their first televised debate, the Democrats running for U.S. Senate tried to give voters an idea of what makes their qualifications unique, but their quibbles weren't always with each other.
The race features U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris of Harvey in a primary campaign where all three have sought to promote their backgrounds at a time when they agree on many issues.
Duckworth, a second-term lawmaker from Hoffman Estates, saved most of her criticisms Friday evening for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the Highland Park Republican running for re-election.
"We can't afford a senator like Mark Kirk," Duckworth said in response to a question about raising the minimum wage.
All three support raising it, but throughout the debate, Zopp argued to voters that Duckworth hasn't accomplished enough during her term and a half in Congress.
"Congresswoman Duckworth has been in Washington for several years, and she's done very little with her time there," said Zopp, a former prosecutor and former executive at Sears Holdings Corp.
Harris, a state lawmaker and former NFL player, largely stayed away from criticizing his opponents, often talking about changes to the education and criminal justice systems.
"The American dream is not about winning the lottery," he said. "It's not about playing in the NFL."
The candidates' first televised joint appearance comes on a Friday night at a time when early voting opportunities will be more widespread starting in about 10 days.
The three candidates are vying for the Senate seat now held by Kirk, who is running for a second term and faces his own primary challenge from Oswego consultant James Marter.
In response to Zopp's criticisms, Duckworth pointed to legislation she's backed in Congress, such as one plan signed by President Barack Obama aimed at preventing suicides. She occasionally referenced the 2004 incident in Iraq when a grenade hit her Blackhawk helicopter, leading to the loss of both her legs.
"I see this time in my life as bonus time," she said.
Zopp pushed Duckworth to agree to more debate opportunities. Friday's event was the only televised meeting on their schedules after two newspaper editorial board gatherings that streamed online.
"The voters in the African-American community want to hear from you on the issues," Zopp said.
Duckworth said she's been traveling the state listening to people instead.
"It's most important to me to get out into communities and talk to people," Duckworth said.
Each faced tough questions about their backgrounds. Zopp sat on the Chicago Public Schools board when the district closed schools. Duckworth was asked why she's missed more votes in Congress than the average lawmaker, and she said it's because she took leave after having her daughter in 2014.
"I don't think Americans begrudge moms taking maternity leave," she said.
And Harris paid more than $23,000 to workers at his pizza restaurants they said they were owed.
"That situation has been rectified," Harris said.
Duckworth has won the backing of Illinois' senior Sen. Dick Durbin and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; she also holds a considerable fundraising advantage over her opponents. Zopp, though, has won some big-name backers, too, including former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr.