Duckworth, Harris and Zopp tout compelling pasts in Senate race
The Democrats' primary election race for U.S. Senate has been in part a competition to compare backgrounds and experiences among the three candidates vying for a shot to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.
Two-term U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Illinois National Guard who lost both her legs in Iraq.
Andrea Zopp of Chicago is a former top prosecutor who also served as an attorney for big companies including Sears and most recently led the Chicago Urban League.
And Napoleon Harris is a state lawmaker from Harvey who played in the NFL and has business experience owning pizzerias.
The race is seen as a major one nationally as Democrats try to regain control of the U.S. Senate. And in a state like Illinois that leans toward Democrats in presidential years, the March 15 primary winner could have an advantage going into the November general election.
The winner will face Kirk or James Marter of Oswego, who are running in the Republican primary.
Duckworth last year quickly secured the support of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrats' national Senate committee and local county party chairmen, raising her profile.
DuPage County Democratic Chairman Robert Peickert says Duckworth has been known for about a decade in Illinois politics, starting with a failed 2006 race for Congress against Republican Peter Roskam and including a victory after a bitter race against former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh in 2012.
"I just think Tammy stands out," Peickert said.
But the speed of those endorsements caused friction as Zopp said she wasn't seriously considered. Cook County Democrats declined to endorse a candidate, and Zopp picked up support from key black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
On Saturday, black leaders held an event with Zopp on Chicago's West Side to put more pressure on Duckworth.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul says he respects the candidates, but the party will have to do some reconciling after the primary.
"The view from Washington is different from the view from within our state," he said. "You don't want to feed apathy in the electoral process if there's a perception that the decision is so distant from here."
Harris has received less attention and largely stayed out of Zopp's criticisms of Duckworth and Duckworth's attacks on Kirk during their only televised debate, a Friday-night event earlier this month.
"Voters are tired of bickering," Harris said. "Voters are tired of people arguing just for the sake of arguing to get a point across."
After the debate, Zopp said Duckworth hasn't made the most of her time in Congress.
"If they don't do anything there, that's the real issue," Zopp said.
Duckworth responded by saying: "I've been shot at before, trust me. I can take it."
Duckworth has sought to emphasize her Iraq story throughout her political career, often referencing it during speeches and putting an emphasis on veterans issues. Durbin first talked to Duckworth about a run for Congress while she was still recovering from her Iraq wounds.
Raoul, though, argues Zopp's experience is broader. At a time when Chicago has been focused on the shooting of black teen Laquan McDonald by a white police officer, Zopp can tout she prosecuted an officer in 1995.
"At the end of the day, I think the decision-making ought to be about who is the most qualified," Raoul said.
Harris in 2013 carried legislation that got attention in the Northwest suburbs for requiring Illinois high schools to carry catastrophic accident insurance. It was a victory sought for years by former Rolling Meadows football player Rob Komosa, who was paralyzed in a 1999 football accident and who died the same year the measure was approved.