Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth edged out opponents in the Democratic primary Tuesday, setting up an intriguing congressional contest. The upbeat vet - who didn't begin her campaign until mid-December - will face Republican Peter Roskam in November in a bid to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R), who has represented Illinois's Sixth District since 1975.
Ms. Duckworth is the most visible of seven Democratic Iraq war vets running for Congress this year. Her candidacy has attracted much national attention due to her compelling personal story - she lost both legs and partial use of one arm when her helicopter was shot down in November 2004 - and the district in which she's running. Located in Chicago's western suburbs, the Sixth District has long been overwhelmingly Republican but is changing, and Democrats are now eyeing it.
George W. Bush won the district with just 53 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004, and in the last House contest Democrat Christine Cegelis took an impressive 44 percent of the vote against Mr. Hyde.
Despite Duckworth's high profile - and backing from party leaders such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John Kerry, and Illinois Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Durbin - taking the seat from the GOP will be tough, most analysts agree.
"The thing she'll have going for her is the publicity, and it appears she can raise the requisite amount of money from national sources," says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a former Chicago alderman. But in a district that is still largely Republican, he says, Duckworth will have to win over both the Democrats who backed her primary opponents as well as independents and some Republicans. Among GOP voters, "she'll be helped most by her status as a veteran," he says.
Duckworth barely bested Ms. Cegelis on Tuesday, winning by a margin of less than 4 percent. She was criticized during the campaign as being a candidate recruited by outside politicians who lives three miles outside the district and who lacks grass-roots support.
But Duckworth's backers see the victory and her impressive fundraising as signs that she can wage a tough campaign. Even in traditionally GOP districts, "someone who's an Iraq war veteran or a military veteran will make them stop and listen," says Mike Lyon, director of the Band of Brothers political action committee, which is working on behalf of 57 war veterans running for Congress as Democrats.