A heated suburban congressional campaign boiled over during a Tuesday night debate as Republican Rep. Joe Walsh labeled Tammy Duckworth a “failed bureaucrat” running a poll-tested campaign while the Democratic challenger argued the incumbent serves the tea party instead of his district.
Going head to head for two hours before a raucous audience of about 1,000 people in Rolling Meadows, the 8th Congressional District contenders debated on issues ranging from the future of Medicare to partisan gridlock.
Illustrating the divide was the candidates’ responses when asked what two specific positions made them the best choice for voters on Nov. 6. Walsh listed the fight against raising the debt ceiling and backing a balanced budget amendment. Duckworth pointed to protecting the guarantee of Medicare and Social Security.
The race, among the most closely watched in the nation as Democrats try to regain control of the House, has unfolded as outside super political action committees are spending millions of dollars on TV attack ads to sway voters.
Walsh, a tea party icon who narrowly won election two years ago, used his opening statement to mock the campaign style of Duckworth, a former top official in the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and a former undersecretary in the federal veterans’ agency.
“You will hear my opponent answer almost every single question with nice poll tested, canned answers like, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s get to work,’” Walsh said. “What you won’t hear her tell you is that she has established a long track record at the Illinois VA as a failed bureaucrat who wasted taxpayer dollars while using her position of power to further political causes that she supported.”
Duckworth countered that Walsh is the “status quo” of a gridlocked Washington and had put his tea party support ahead of the needs of the district.
“He’s voted against his district time and again. He’s not there to serve this district. He’s there to serve the tea party and that simply is not good enough. The choice is clear. Do you want more of the same partisan gridlock?” Duckworth asked.
Voters, she said, “don’t want to be yelled at anymore. They want somebody to listen to them and get to work serving them in Washington instead of being the poster child of the tea party.”
At times, the shouts and boos from the audience were louder than the answers. Even the panelists asking questions for the debate, broadcast on WIND-AM (560) and WCPT-AM (820), caught heat from people yelling “Where’s the question?” when queries went on too long or were confusing.
Walsh’s criticism of Duckworth’s tenure at the state Veterans Affairs agency partly appeared to be aimed at her apology for taking a state car to a 2008 campaign event for a Democratic congressional candidate. Walsh also cited a state audit that found money had not been properly reported. The agency said it was largely a bookkeeping error and the money was accounted for.
The Republican congressman also suggested Duckworth was only interested in having a debate about what to wear for her speech at the recent Democratic National Convention. Duckworth, who lost both legs in an Iraq war helicopter crash, replied, “I do sometimes look at the clothes that I wear, but you know, for most of my adult life, I’ve worn one color—it’s called camouflage.”
On the budget, Duckworth maintained that between increasing taxes on millionaires and cutting defense programs and waste in social programs, $2 trillion could be applied to the national debt.
But Walsh, who has backed the budget plans of House Republicans that include giving future retirees the option to receive a subsidy for health care instead of traditional Medicare, said the tax hike on the wealthy Duckworth backs wouldn’t pay for two days’ worth of government borrowing. “We have a government that does too much for too many of us,” he said.