Nowhere was Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh’s decision not to seek re-election in the 8th Congressional district mourned more noticeably Thursday than at a fund-raiser for his would-be successor, Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
Duckworth and her supporters — including President Barack Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod — hoisted Walsh’s image at Fulton’s on the River and invoked his name over and over again as the symbol of what the former Veterans Administration official is running against.
They only grudgingly admitted Walsh is not Duckworth’s nominal Republican opponent anymore.
“We don’t have Joe to kick around anymore,” Duckworth’s finance chair William Brandt said, looking at a projection of Walsh.
Walsh, who has become one of the loudest voices criticizing President Obama on cable TV, announced Wednesday that he is running in the neighboring 14th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren.
Instead, Duckworth faces a Democratic primary against former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, who Duckworth, Axelrod, Brandt and her other supporters all proclaimed “a good guy.” They just think Duckworth is better.
Republican businessmen Rich Evans and Andrew Palomo have announced their candidacies for the 8th Congressional District.
Axelrod said Duckworth would have the “moral authority” to speak out on behalf of average Americans, especially servicemen and women. She lost her legs as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.
“I think a lot about what it’s going to mean when she walks down that aisle on those titanium legs, with that spine of steel, and takes her place at the podium in the well of the house — she’s going to speak from the profound place of someone who understands just how the decisions that are made in that body affect the lives of people,” Axelrod said.
The small gathering of 60 supporters raised $70,000 for Duckworth.
Krishnamoorthi got into the race first, raised more money by the first reporting period and locked up the endorsements of most of the district’s Democratic committeemen and some big names, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Rep. Danny Davis.
But Duckworth started out with a major name recognition advantage, having run six years ago in the old 6th Congressional District, which covered half the new 8th’s territory in the northwest suburbs.
Brandt joked about the state Democrats tailoring the district for Duckworth to make a second run.
“This new district overlaps the best part — that’s what I call it — of the former 6th, where we took a bunch of votes last time from [Republican] Peter Roskam,” Brandt said. “By serendipity — and I don’t know how this happened — this district is drawn to pick up a lot of that.”
All the speakers speculated that Walsh abandoned the district rather than face Duckworth.
“Joe is so tired of his own act that when he heard Tammy was going to run in the 8th, as you saw just yesterday — obviously I worked up this speech a week ago — Joe cut out on us,” Brandt said. “Joe, where did you go? Joe went someplace else because he knows he can’t beat Tammy.”
Axelrod echoed that.
“Joe Walsh has spent the last year and a half essentially auditioning for right-wing talk radio instead of meeting his responsibilities for the people … of his district,” Axelrod said. “I think part of the reason he left is he recognized who Tammy Duckworth is. She is an authentic American hero.”
But the truth is more of Walsh’s current district — including his McHenry home — was thrown into the new 14th rather than into the new 8th, which is designed for a Democrat to win, so Walsh may well have opted for the 14th whether or not Duckworth ran.
If she’s not running against Walsh, she’s running against what he stands for, Axelrod said.
“If you cut research and development and innovation basic science, clean energy technology, by 70 percent, which is what Joe Walsh and the Republicans have proposed, you’re mortgaging the future,” Axelrod said.
“Tea Party members, with their misguided right-wing ideology and their complete lack of empathy for working Americans … want to pull the rug out from under our seniors and end Medicare and Social Security as we know it just so they can protect tax cuts and loopholes for corporations like Haliburton that benefit from doing business with this country but then take their profits to the Cayman Islands,” Duckworth said.
Krishnamoorthi went even further than Duckworth when it came to using Walsh as a foil. He crashed a Walsh town hall meeting the night Walsh skipped Obama’s jobs address to a joint session of Congress.
Axelrod praised Krishnamoorthi but said he told him he should not be in this race.
“I like Raja a lot — he’s a friend of mine,” Axelrod said. “I have told him I don’t think it’s the right decision for him. I think he’s made a mistake by getting into this race but sometimes you have to make your mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately it’s going to be an expensive lesson … I think a lot of resources are going to be squandered unnecessarily.”