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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Duckworth ahead in House race

Advertiser News Services

Illinois Democrat L. Tammy Duckworth, who grew up in Hawai'i, was poised to win the primary for a House seat.

Associated Press

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WHEATON, Ill. Former Army Maj. L. Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in Iraq, held a slight lead in yesterday's primary election to become the Democratic nominee for a House seat held since 1974 by retiring Republican Rep. Henry Hyde.

Duckworth was closely followed by Christine Cegelis, the party's 2004 nominee, in a three-way 6th District race for Hyde's seat in Congress.

Duckworth, who was wounded when her Army helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004 and says the war was a mistake, was born in Thailand and grew up in Hawai'i, where she attended McKinley High School.

With 96.4 percent of precincts reporting at about 3 a.m. Central Time, Duckworth had 43.6 percent of the vote and Cegelis, a software engineer, had 40.7 percent. Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott had about 15.8 percent.

"If these numbers hold, I'm going to work as hard as I know to justify your faith in me and give voice to your concerns," Duckworth said.

Said Cegelis campaign spokes-man Andy Juniewicz last night: "It's so nail-bitingly close that there's no way to make any conclusive statement tonight."

State Sen. Peter Roskam ran unopposed in the GOP primary.

The race could have national repercussions as Democrats try to regain control of the House of Representatives in November. Duckworth, 38, is one of nine veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan running for Congress this year. Only one, Van Taylor, winner of a March 7 primary in Texas, is a Republican.

The Democratic Party recruited Duckworth and other veterans because they hope to end "the consistent perception that Democrats are not as strong as Republicans on homeland security," said Kent Redfield, a political studies professor at the University of Illinois-Champaign. "They're trying to put a new face on the Democratic Party."

Because she was wooed by high-profile supporters such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Redfield said, a loss would "really be an embarrassment."

Roskam, 44, is a social conservative who was endorsed by Hyde. Vice President Dick Cheney raised $200,000 for Roskam at a fundraiser last week.

Voters at the Bethel Presbyterian Church here said Duckworth's personal story grabbed their attention.

"She's a very brave lady," said Bill Simeral, 63.

"It's a sad story, but it's also very uplifting," said Peter Larmon, 63, a retired gas company employee. "I respect her position on the war, which has more credibility since she's been there."

Writer Paula Serfling, 45, said she doesn't know enough yet about Duckworth's stance on other issues to decide whether she'd vote for her in the general election. Serfling said she wants to know "how she would handle overspending and the trade imbalance and here's the big one Medicare and Medicaid and other health issues."

Paul Green, a political scientist at Chicago's Roosevelt University, said Duckworth has a better chance than her Democratic rivals of defeating Roskam in the heavily Republican district this fall. She's more than her celebrity factor," he said, "but she wouldn't be a candidate without it."

USA Today, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.