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Duckworth going ahead of Walsh as nation watches

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth

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Updated: November 6, 2012 10:09PM

The 8th Congressional District battle royal between freshman Joe Walsh, R-McHenry, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, is not only the most high-profile congressional election going on in Northern Illinois. It is one of the most-watched in the entire country, and big money has been sent in from super-political action committees to pay for ads on both sides.

With about three-quarters of the votes counted in Cook County, Duckworth was maintaining a lead of 55 percent to 45 percent in that county (42,865 votes to 35,368 votes). No vote counts had been reported yet in Kane County.

Adored by the anti-government, anti-tax tea party crowd, the loud-voiced, battling Walsh roared onto the national scene in 2010 by doing a rare thing — defeating an incumbent member of Congress. The surprise victim in a tight race was Democrat Melissa Bean.

But that was before the Democrat-controlled legislature redrew all the congressional districts in the wake of he 2010 census. And one of their objectives seemed to be to put more Democratically-inclined voters into the 8th District. It now includes most of Elgin and Carpentersville with their many blue-collar workers and many Hispanics, plus towns like South Elgin, East Dundee, Streamwood, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and Glendale Heights.

At first, the new map left its congressman, Walsh, and his McHenry home out of the 8th altogether. But rather than engage in a fratricidal primary battle against Randy Hultgren in what had just become his new home district, Walsh decided to run again in the 8th.

Duckworth, born to a military father and a mother of Chinese ancestry, lost both legs while flying an Army helicopter in combat in Iraq in 2004. After working in state government, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Peter Roskam in the 6th District in the last election.

With money pouring in from super political action councils, much of the advertising on both sides has been vicious. Democratic TV commercials accused Walsh of having failed to pay $117,000 in child support to his ex-wife while giving his own campaign $35,000. “Tammy Duckworth ... has always met her responsibilities,” the commercial concluded. (The child support court case has since been resolved.)

Walsh responded by going onto the air waves with his son, Joe Walsh Jr., who talked about what a wonderful father Joe Sr. was. He also sent out postcards showing him posing with his second wife and smiling children.

In return, pro-Walsh ads pictured Duckworth as a protege of jailed ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, showing a very evil-smirking Blago lurking just behind her.

In real-life rallies, Walsh drew headlines by complaining that Duckworth “never talks about anything” except her military service and her injury. Stridently anti-abortion, he also claimed that because of modern medical technology, no woman ever needs to have an abortion to save her own life.

When Walsh and Duckworth squared off last month for a debate in Schaumburg, 1,000 people showed up and became so contentious that at one point, emcee Paul Green suggested the crowd put on togas, a la ancient Rome. “That debate was sui generis, one of a kind,” Green told Sun-Times Media later, with a bigger crowd and more passion than any he has seen before.

A possible sign of what’s to come developed two weeks ago when the Now or Never PAC pulled back an offer to spend $2.5 million on pro-Walsh, anti-Duckworth ads. PAC leaders said that was because Walsh was on a trajectory toward victory and no longer needed their help. But with most polls showing Walsh running behind, others wondered if it was really a case of not throwing good money after bad. Then, last week, Now or Never leaders said they would spend an additional $1 million to support Walsh after all.

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