Politics

Tammy Duckworth defeats Rep. Joe Walsh in Illinois’ 8th Congressional race

Photo by Katherine Iorio

One of the nation’s most expensive, hostile and closely watched Congressional races, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs in combat before turning to politics, defeated Tea Party-backed Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in the northwest suburban 8th District campaign.

Duckworth declared victory shortly after 10 p.m.

With 93 percent of the unofficial vote counted, Duckworth had 55 percent, with 45 percent for Walsh. Duckworth led in all three counties: suburban Cook, DuPage and Kane.

Finger foods and a live jazz band entertained supporters and volunteers at Duckworth’s victory party at a Holiday Inn in Elk Grove Village.

“I would never have been able to do this without your incredible support,” a glowing Duckworth told more than 200 cheering supporters. “You, my friends, stood with me when others tried to buy this election.”

She said she had just received a call from Walsh, who was “very gracious” in conceding defeat.

Duckworth, 44, is the first Asian-American woman elected to Illinois’ Congress. Before the results of her victory, Duckworth did a series of television interviews Tuesday evening, including one in Thai.

She observed the results trickling in with her husband Bryan and mother Lamai. Duckworth wore a purple dress and had an American flag scarf draped around one of her prosthetic legs.

She was a captain in the Army National Guard when she was sent to Iraq in 2004. As a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, she was one of the first women to fly combat missions in Iraq. She lost both legs in November of that year when her helicopter was struck but landed safely.

Duckworth’s husband, Major Bryan Bowlsbey, brought himself to tears after describing the phone call that would change his wife’s life forever.

“She looked pretty rough when I first got there,” Bowlsbey said. “But I knew those wounds were never going to hold her back.”

He explained when Duckworth first woke up, her very first words were “I love you, and put me to work.”

Duckworth’s brother, Tom, a veteran and a Harley mechanic, was at the gathering and called his sister an “inspiration.”

“When she’s told no, she will find her way around it,” he said laughing.

Supporters from Roselle, Judy and Rich White, have been volunteering since January. One issue that resonates with the couple is Duckworth’s belief in pulling out of Afghanistan.

“I’m more interested, personally, with Afghanistan because I’m tired of this war,” Judy White said. “I think it’s a big waste of money and we’re not really accomplishing anything.”

When asked about Congressman Joe Walsh both laughed.

“Joe Walsh is the main reason why I got involved,” Judy White said. “I basically couldn’t stand the man anymore.”

Many voters apparently found Walsh too extreme. He called President Obama a liar, said radical Muslims intent on killing Americans had invaded the suburbs and claimed Duckworth talked too much about her military service to be considered a hero.

Duckworth regularly out-raised Walsh, and she had $4.5 million in her campaign as of last month, compared with roughly $1.8 million for Walsh.

Walsh, however, received major support from conservative political groups that dispensed more than $5 million into the race. Duckworth also got about $500,000 in support from outside groups.

She seized on his personal financial issues and frequent campaign gaffes, including his claims that medical advances have reduced the need for women to have life-saving abortions.

In addition to his statements on abortion, Walsh drew attention for saying Duckworth talked too much about her war service, unlike “true heroes.”

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