Former Army pilot, maimed in Iraq, wins nomination for Congress in Illinois
CHICAGO – Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in a grenade attack in Iraq, is now leading the charge for the Fighting Democrats.Duckworth narrowly won the Democratic nomination for Congress in a primary race Tuesday for the House seat held by Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, who is retiring after 32 years. She is the best-known of the Iraq war veterans who want to go to Capitol Hill this year.”My experience in Iraq made me realize, and during the recovery, that I could have died,” said Duckworth, who was wounded in 2004 and now gets around by using either a wheelchair or metal prosthetic limbs and a cane. “And I just had to do more with my life.”About 10 veterans of the current fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are candidates for Congress, all but one of them a Democrat. The Fighting Democrats, as they are being called, contend their battlefield experience will allow them to criticize the war without being written off as naive and weak on defense.Duckworth, a 38-year-old major in the Illinois Army National Guard, has strong backing from big-name national Democrats, some of whom recruited her to run in the traditionally Republican district in Chicago’s suburbs.On the campaign trail, she has portrayed U.S. involvement in Iraq as a mistake. She has faulted U.S. intelligence and accused American politicians of making poor decisions.But she has nothing but praise for the U.S. fighting men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has cautioned against quick withdrawal.”I just thought that we never should have invaded Iraq. We should have gone after Osama bin Laden and our enemies in Afghanistan who attacked us on our soil here in the United States,” she said in suburban Downers Grove on Wednesday after edging out businesswoman Christine Cegelis for the nomination.At the same time, Duckworth, who is married to a captain in the Illinois National Guard, said: “I was proud to serve. I’d do it tomorrow. I’m still in the Army National Guard. If my unit were deployed, I would go again. I think it is important to do your duty.”Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said he would be surprised if Duckworth won in November. But “she serves a function for Democrats even if she loses,” by helping the Democrats compete with the Republicans on the issue of national security.Similarly, Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University, said that most of the veterans seeking House seats this cycle are “running in places where they’re sacrificial lambs.”In November, Duckworth will face state Sen. Peter Roskam, a well-to-do lawyer and conservative from Wheaton who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. Roskam also drew support from Vice President Dick Cheney, who helped with a fundraiser that brought in an estimated $200,000.”How much is this going to be a national election? Clearly, the Republicans will hope it’s not. ‘All politics is local will be their mantra,”‘ Hess said.For her part, Duckworth has tried to talk about more than just the war.”I think we need to stop giving money to oil companies at a time we are cutting funding for education,” she said. “We need to stop giving tax cuts to the very wealthiest Americans.”She does acknowledge what some critics say privately: That she would not have become a candidate had it not been for her catastrophic injury.Had she not been wounded, she said, she would have started a nonprofit agency or gone back to her job at Rotary International’s world headquarters in Evanston, where she was a staff supervisor and was working at the same time on a doctorate on Southeast Asia’s economies and public health.Vail, Colorado
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