Saturday, December 17, 2005

The buggle call for NJVETCAUCUS to volunteer and help in campaigns


December 17, 2005
Red District, Blue Candidate, Purple Heart
CHICAGO, Dec. 16 - During 13 months of rehabilitation
at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Maj.
L. Tammy Duckworth says, she did a lot of reading
about American schoolchildren "losing our competitive
advantage" with China. Encountering questions about
her top-of-the-line prostheses while walking around a
shopping mall, she says, made her ponder inequities in
America's health care system.

And there was plenty of time to critique the Bush
administration's prosecution of the war in Iraq, where
she lost both legs and partial use of her right arm
when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Black Hawk
helicopter she was flying over the Tigris River.

So Ms. Duckworth, who was discharged from Walter Reed
on Wednesday and from active duty the day before,
decided to run for Congress, joining a growing group
of a dozen Iraq veterans running next year - most,
like her, as Democrats.

"I had my legs blown off in Iraq, and because I had my
legs blown off in Iraq people are listening to me,"
said Ms. Duckworth, 37, who plans to announce her
candidacy officially on Sunday, at a rally and in an
appearance on the ABC News program "This Week." "I'm
not going to get my legs back, and that's fine, but if
that gives me a platform to talk about the things that
are important to me, like education and jobs, that's

Ms. Duckworth is seeking her party's nomination in a
March 21 primary for the seat being vacated after 32
years by Representative Henry J. Hyde, a powerful
Republican, in a swath of suburban Chicago that has
lately become more Democratic. The district would be a
prize for the Democrats in their effort to retake
control of the House.

Political analysts and the national Democratic leaders
who recruited her say Ms. Duckworth and the other
veterans could help Democrats gain traction on crucial
issues of national security, where Republicans often
have the edge. Paul L. Hackett, who commanded a Marine
unit in Iraq, made a surprisingly strong showing in a
special Congressional election this summer in Ohio,
earning 48 percent of the vote in a heavily Republican
district. That outcome propelled Mr. Hackett into a
race for the Democratic nomination to challenge
Senator Mike DeWine next year and inspired several
fellow veterans to undertake their own campaigns.

What the Democratic leaders are looking for is
"somebody who can deliver a message on Iraq but the
messenger won't be instantly discredited as a
typically liberal Democrat - that's the theory of the
formula," explained Amy Walter, who follows House
races for The Cook Political Report, the
quintessential Washington handicapper. The veterans,
Ms. Walter added, "have an instant level of
credibility to talk about that."

Indeed, Ms. Duckworth, who received the Air Medal as
well as a Purple Heart, already has the talking points
down: "My role in the Army gives me the courage to
make the tough decisions," is one of her lines. And:
"Those of us who've served on the ground have a unique
perspective on the war and on what it means to serve
in combat."

In a telephone interview Friday as part of a carefully
orchestrated rollout of her campaign, Ms. Duckworth
said that she had opposed the invasion of Iraq from
the start, even as she volunteered for deployment, but
that she did not favor the quick withdrawal that some
Democrats seek.

"I think we broke it and we need to fix it," she said.
"We have a commitment and an obligation to make sure
that we help Iraqi security forces be able to maintain
their own security. We need to come up with an
aggressive plan based on benchmarks for when we're
going to leave."

Ms. Duckworth's opponent in the primary, Christine
Cegelis, a software engineer who won 44 percent of the
vote against Representative Hyde in 2004, tried to put
a positive spin on a campaign by so high-profile a
contender, saying she hoped it would "give our race
the visibility that would not have been afforded to
me." State Senator Peter J. Roskam, the conservative
Republican whom one of the women will face next
November, declined to be interviewed but issued a
statement admiring Ms. Duckworth's "service and
sacrifice to our great country."

Ms. Duckworth lives with her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey,
an Army officer, in Hoffman Estates. Their home is
three miles outside the district she hopes to
represent, but Congressional candidates are required
only to live within the state.

She was one of very few women flying combat missions
in Iraq, until her Black Hawk was felled on Nov. 12,
2004. In between more than two dozen operations (she
says she lost count) while at Walter Reed, she
testified before Congress about military health care
benefits and was a guest of Senator Richard J. Durbin,
Democrat of Illinois, at this year's State of the
Union address. She can now walk up to a mile unaided
with her prostheses, but generally uses a cane and
spends some of each day in a wheelchair; she still
lacks full use of her right arm.

"Amputees fall down a lot - it's just the nature of
being an amputee - so you'll probably see that," she
said. "I'm learning to tuck and roll really well."

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