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Agnes Radomski/MEDILL

Tammy Duckworth heads into the ballroom for her election party Tuesday night at the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn.

Despite big election win, Duckworth faces first-term limitations

by Agnes Radomski
Nov 07, 2012


Agnes Radomski/MEDILL

Tammy Duckworth makes her way through a line of reporters anticipating interviews on election night.


Agnes Radomski/MEDILL

Duckworth supporters hang out and anticipate  the election results.


Agnes Radomski/MEDILL

A Duckworth supporter raises her fist during Duckworth's acceptance speech.

Tammy Duckworth’s election to Congress from the 8th District Tuesday didn’t come as a surprise to most, and although experts see it as an advantage for Democrats in Illinois, they remind constituents that a freshman congresswoman can only do so much.

Because Republicans retained control of the House in Tuesday’s election, Duckworth will be in the minority party, which inevitably means a lower profile than if Democrats were in control.

“Well, she won’t have an enormously visible role unless she picks up something related to issues with veterans,” said Dick Simpson, former alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois. “Otherwise she will simply be one of the Democratic votes that will make the Democratic group in Congress stronger.”

As a freshman, Duckworth will have to prove herself to her colleagues.

“Most first termers when they come into Congress, they’ll have to establish their reputation,” said John Brehm, political science professor at the University of Chicago. “They still have to do some committee service and extra work ... she may have a little higher profile than most, but not enormously so.”

While she may have to establish herself in Congress, she and other Democrats who ousted incumbent Republican congressmen have already made an impact on Illinois politics.

“Generally speaking, the win by the Democrats has reversed the congressional district in Illinois, a complete reversal of the 2010 election” said Dick Simpson, former alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois.

“The new congressional delegation [from Illinois] will be 12 Democrats and only six Republicans,” he said.

Duckworth replaced incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Fox Lake), a Tea Party favorite, known for his boisterous and unapologetic speaking style that has gained national attention.

Walsh came under fire most recently for taking a pro-life without exception stance. He has since modified his position to make exceptions in the case of the life of a mother, but not for rape.

Simpson viewed Walsh’s style as a boost for Duckworth’s election.

“Tammy Duckworth won strongly … her opponent was so far out of the main stream,” he said.

Brehm viewed Walsh’s campaign as doomed very early on.

“The district was drawn up in such a way that ordinary voters that would have supported Joe Walsh were not regularly there,” he said. “The second reason for Joe Walsh’s loss was that he was going up against a very strong challenger in Tammy Duckworth, former administration official, high name recognition … and the third reason would have to do with his very out of step policy statements, in particular about abortion, about healthcare, about economic growth in the state of Illinois.”

Some residents of the 8th District also cited Walsh’s shortcomings in the race.

“His views are too extreme for this district – for most districts,” said Perry Gold of Arlington Heights.

“He represented the extreme fringes of the right,” said Stephanie Ueng. “He did not represent Illinois’s 8th District at all.”

During her acceptance speech, Duckworth alluded to the amount of money spent by her opponent.

Total outside spending for both campaigns equaled roughly $6.6 million and ads abounded attacking each candidate, made possible by the large amount of money spent by PACS and Super PACS, the majority being spent in favor of Walsh. Those include the Super PAC Now or Never which spent nearly $3 million, and another Super PAC, Freedom Works for America, which spent $2 million to support Walsh and oppose Tammy Duckworth. The House Majority PAC spent nearly $200,000 in support of Duckworth.

Although Walsh only served one term in Congress, his concession speech took on a tone of optimism and determination.

“We lost this battle … but so help me God, we’re in a fight,” he said. “We are in a fight to return this country to the principles it was founded on … and that is a fight that I am not going to give up on,” he said with conviction.

Walsh didn’t respond to requests for comment on his future. However, in an interview with the Daily Herald Wednesday, Walsh didn’t dismiss a bid for governor of Illinois in 2014.

"You know that I believe fervently in that vision," he told the Daily Herald."People approach me every day and ask, 'Walsh, are you going to run for the governor? Are you going to run for Senate?' I want to do my part to lead a movement to present a vision to this. I’d rather go down fighting."