Ex-major fights for Ill. seat

Democrat aims to succeed Hyde

The Nation Votes 2006

October 22, 2006|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,Los Angeles Times

CHICAGO -- Trying to overcome months of scandalous GOP news, most Republican House incumbents are scrambling to make their campaign funds last until Election Day.

But in the highly competitive and closely watched race to fill the open seat of retiring Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde, it's a Democrat who is doing the struggling.

As of the end of September, L. Tammy Duckworth - a retired Army major who lost both legs and suffered severe injuries to her right arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004 - had spent all but $206,000 of the nearly $2.8 million she raised for her campaign in the Republican stronghold of DuPage County.

One of the reasons? Trying to one-up her opponent, state Sen. Peter Roskam, in a race that heated up early - and where each candidate has claimed that the other has overstepped the line with negative attacks.

While all of the DuPage County board members and countywide officeholders are Republican, the area's changing ethnic and economic makeup has given Democrats hope that they can win the seat - just as in a nearby district in 2004, Democrat Melissa Bean ousted GOP incumbent Philip Crane.

"The Democrats know they are not going to take control of Congress this fall, or win the White House in 2008, if they only win blue districts," said Amy Walter, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "They need for people like Tammy Duckworth to win."

For weeks, Duckworth and Roskam have disagreed on nearly every election issue, snarling at one another in TV ads and live debates.

Roskam, backed heavily by the National Republican Campaign Committee, rolled out ads questioning Duckworth's support of the Iraq war and the military, and slamming her stances on taxes and immigration.

One campaign mailer featured a ghost and a chilly warning: "If you vote for Tammy Duckworth, you may be visited by the `ghost of taxes future.'"

Duckworth's campaign retaliated by aggressively pushing her beliefs and defending her stance - perhaps too early in the race.

Trying to appeal to the changing demographics of the district, the Democrat's mail fliers publicized her support of embryonic stem cell research - opposed by Roskam - and said that voting for Roskam represented a vote for the "status quo" in Washington.

She has also criticized his opposition to abortion rights and gun-control restrictions, and his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Roskam has called attention to Duckworth's out-of-state campaign funds and pointed out that that she lives slightly outside the district. Meanwhile, he is targeting the traditional GOP base.

Also, he says that though the demographics are changing, the newcomers to DuPage County want the same things - such as lower taxes - that Republicans do.

Now, in the final days of the race, Duckworth's campaign has scaled back its network television ads to save money.

Even Duckworth - who is hoping to get a last-minute boost from a fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton, and expects advertising support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - wonders if it'll be enough to win.

"It's going to be tight," Duckworth, 38, acknowledged last week.

Regardless of the discrepancy in campaign funds, political experts agree that the race will be close. A Reuters/Zogby poll this month showed Duckworth with a slight edge over Roskam, 43 percent to 38 percent.

Duckworth, whose wounds and war service inspired her to enter the public spotlight, is one of a small group of Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans running for Congress this fall. Five of the eight candidates are Democrats running in Republican districts considered to be vulnerable.

Roskam, 45, is a respected DuPage County figure and Republican minority whip in the state Senate.

His campaign, which received recent support from a local fundraiser attended by President Bush, still had about $1.5 million left as of Sept. 30.

"We feel that we are in a very strong position for Election Day," said Ryan McLaughlin, Roskam's campaign manager.

"This has long been a Republican stronghold, and we believe that it will continue to vote Republican come this November."

P.J. Huffstutter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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