Peoria Journal Star

December 17, 2005

Wounded Iraq veteran plans House bid
Durbin takes rare stand to endorse candidate

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Wounded Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth on Sunday will announce her plans to run in the Democratic primary for retiring Rep. Henry Hyde's seat in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Duckworth was a helicopter pilot with a Peoria-based Illinois Army National Guard unit when her aircraft was shot down on Nov. 12, 2004. She lost both legs and suffered serious injury to her right arm and has spent much of the time since in surgeries and rehabilitation. She served with the 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment.

"You can't meet this woman and not feel you're dealing with someone who's an exceptional person," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters in his Capitol office on Friday.

Duckworth was recruited for the congressional race by Durbin and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago, who heads the party's efforts to win more House seats.

The race is a national priority for Democrats, important enough for Durbin to drop his usual neutral stance in a contested primary race.

"We're going to win it because of Tammy Duckworth. She is that good. We are committed to winning it and it will be a dramatic victory for a district that has been historically Republican," said Durbin, who first talked to her about running for Congress six months ago.

Duckworth was released from active Army duty Wednesday, freeing her to file nominating petitions by Monday's deadline.

She's expected to announce her candidacy Sunday on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulous, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House. She'll also appear at an event in Lombard, Ill.

Durbin invited Duckworth as his guest to watch President Bush's State of the Union address last February. She also has testified before Congress, making a compelling appeal for veterans' benefits.

"When she's elected to Congress, she will walk - literally walk - into the House of Representatives as a national spokeswoman for veterans, for disabled veterans, for women in the military, for Asian-American women. She will come to that job with national importance because of her life experience," said Durbin.

First, she has to defeat two other Democrats in the primary including Christine Cegalis, who won the Democratic nomination in 2004, and Wheaton College Professor Lindy Scott. The likely GOP candidate is state Sen. Pete Roskam, R-Wheaton.

Another hurdle is that Duckworth lives a few miles outside the 6th congressional district that she wants to represent. She's not required by law to live in the district, but opponents can question it. Durbin said he doesn't expect that to be a major issue.

After Duckworth was injured, her fellow Guard members remodeled her Hoffman Estates home to make it handicapped accessible.

"She's comfortable there and I don't think the matter of a few blocks or mile is going to make a difference in terms of her commitment to the district," Durbin said.

As a civilian, Duckworth worked at Rotary International. Her late father worked with a United Nation's refugee program, which took the family to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

"My family always stressed that you have to give something back," she said during her rehab last February at Walter Reed.

Durbin said she recently had another surgery to fight a bone infection. She is required to wear an IV feeding her body antibiotics, but he said she didn't plan to let it slow her campaign plans.

While Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., held back on endorsing Duckworth, he noted that "very rarely have I met a more impressive person than Tammy Duckworth."

"Not only does she have a courageous story to tell, but aside from her amazing service to this country, she just has the poise and exudes the type of character that I think would make her an astounding public servant," Obama said.