Iraq War Vet Wins in Illinois Race

By Eric Pianin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006; 3:06 PM

Tammy Duckworth, the decorated Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in a grenade attack, won a close race Wednesday in her bid for the Democratic primary nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R) in Illinois's 6th Congressional District.

Duckworth, the most prominent and best-financed of nearly a dozen veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars attempting to launch careers in Congress, was vying with Democratic rival Christine Cegelis, a computer consultant who has been running nonstop since she lost to Hyde two years ago.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared the Thailand-born Duckworth the narrow winner with 44 percent, or 14,019 votes, to Cegelis' 40 percent.

In the Republican primary, Peter Roskam, a well-financed conservative state lawmaker, ran unopposed to succeed Hyde, the House Judiciary Committee chairman during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Hyde is retiring after 16 terms in office.

Illinois voters also picked a Republican nominee to challenge Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. At 1:30 a.m. today, the Associated Press declared Judy Baar Topinka, the state treasurer and former state GOP party chairman, the winner; she led with 37.9 percent of the vote in a crowded five-candidate race. Blagojevich, whose administration has been embarrassed by a series of corruption investigations, fended off a challenge by Edwin Eisendrath, a former Chicago alderman. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Blagojevich had won 70 percent of the vote.

Duckworth, 38, a retired Army major who was wounded on Nov. 12, 2004, while piloting a helicopter in Iraq, formally announced her candidacy in December. Since then, she has enjoyed the high-profile backing and money-raising power of such Democratic Party luminaries as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

Although Duckworth sought to stress bread-and-butter issues, her views on the war inevitably garnered far more attention. She told audiences that she supports the troops and believes that the United States must persevere long enough to give Iraqis a chance. But she asserted that President Bush's decision to invade Iraq was an error and that the war has been badly managed.

Cegelis sought to portray Duckworth as a political carpetbagger in the congressional district, a traditionally GOP bastion west of Chicago in DuPage County. Cegelis asserted that many residents resented that Duckworth lives in a home three miles outside the district and that she raised most of her $517,747 campaign war chest with the help of her national Democratic allies. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, helped Duckworth raise $139,000 earlier this month with an e-mailed fundraising appeal.

Staff writer Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report .

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