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Out of the War, Into a Fierce Battle for Congress

Tammy Duckworth's injuries led her to seek office. She knows the race won't be easy.

June 04, 2006|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

She's tickled with her synthetic feet -- not only do they work well, they give her fashion options: "There's a space between the big toe and the rest of the toes, so I can wear sandals" she said, gleefully pulling off her suede loafer and fuzzy white sock. "And look. My foot can arch so I can wear up to a 2-inch heel!"

Though she often interjects humor when talking about the political race -- "If we're going to debate gun control, think my opponent would be up for doing it out on the gun range? Best shot wins?" -- Duckworth understands she faces an uphill battle.

She won a three-way Democratic primary this spring with 44% of the vote, thanks in part to the support of Durbin and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).

Some supporters of her closest competitor -- Christine Cegelis, a local businesswoman who challenged Hyde in 2004 -- cast Duckworth as an outsider brought in by the national party to big-foot a local favorite. But after the primary, Cegelis announced her support for Duckworth.

Both national parties are throwing their weight behind their picks.

The Republican Party is preparing to set up a substantial fundraising office in the district and plans to mobilize to get out the vote. And with fundraising help from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Vice President Dick Cheney, Roskam has raised a war chest of at least $1.45 million.

The Democrats, eager to attract swing voters and Republicans willing to split the party ballot, have helped Duckworth pull in more than $1 million.

This weekend, however, Duckworth's campaign will have to continue without her: The Illinois Army National Guard has granted her request to continue serving and has assigned her to an aviation safety team.

This is her regular weekend to train.

Outside the campaign office, her uniform hangs neatly pressed inside her new pickup. Her combat boots are next to an electrical cord and power converter -- which she can plug into the cigarette jack and use to power her artificial limbs.

On Friday afternoon, she walked away from the phone calls.

She put on her combat boots, slipped into her truck and drove toward Springfield.

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