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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Charge of the Fighting Democrats

By Dennis Conrad
Associated Press

L. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot wounded in Iraq, greeted customers yesterday at a restaurant in Downers Grove, Ill., a day after winning the Democratic nomination for Congress.

REX ARBOGAST | Associated Press

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CHICAGO L. 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 born in Thailand and grew up in Hawai'i, where she attended McKinley High School. "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 Democrats. 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 the Bush administration 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 yesterday after edging out businesswoman Christine Cegelis for the nomination.

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 drew support from Vice President Dick Cheney, who joined 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.