Friday, December 9, 2005

Tammy Duckworth running for Congress

Update 12/19/05: Lots of incoming traffic looking for info on Maj. Duckworth. Her campaign website is here, ArchPundit interviews Tammy here (follow the links to snippets from the interview), and Rich at Capitol Fax interviewed her on Friday, details (and lots of comments) are here.

As many readers of this blog know, when not running around the country spreading the good word about RSS, I’m also politically active in Naperville, the city where I live. My original involvement started with the Dean campaign, then transitioned to more local actions on behalf of a number of local and state candidates. That led to being asked to run the local Democratic party, something I’ve done for the past 18 months.

My tenure as party chair has been mixed with success and failure, as any political endeavor is likely to be. But I’m proud of the fact that we’ve brought more people to the process, encouraged vigorous debate on issues that matter to our members, and provided a forum for people from various points of view to engage our members.

Rumors started swirling a few weeks ago that Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the DCCC (the campaign committee in Congress) and the lead recruiter for Congressional candidates nationwide, had found a candidate to run in the 6th District, the seat that Henry Hyde is leaving next fall. Christine Cegelis, a friend of mine and someone who I’ve periodically counseled in her race, ran against Hyde in 2004 and won 44% of the vote — an impressive showing for a first-time candidate. She’s running again, has an active volunteer base behind her, and has raised a decent amount of money so far. I say “decent” in that it’s more than she raised last time around, and it’s definitely not a paltry sum. But she’s spent a lot of it (often considered a no-no this early in a campaign), and it’s not as much as is often believed to be needed to run competitively (especially when the Republican opponent has raised quite a bit more).

The candidate Rahm found is Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Iraq war hero who lost both legs in a Blackhawk helicopter accident (she was the pilot). More on Tammy here, here and here. Rahm’s calculations here are that the Democrats need to throw a well-funded, nationally-recognizable candidate into the race, and fears Christine is not the right candidate for that role . That’s disappointing to me personally — I like Christine, like the campaign she ran in 2004, and feel she’d represent the 6th District well in Congress.

But I’m appalled by what some local Democrats are doing to try and sabotage Duckworth’s campaign before it gets out of the gate. I received an e-mail last night that copied me in on a letter written to Duckworth (and Emanuel). Written by a fellow local party chair and speaking on behalf of the entire township party, the letter starts out by saying Duckworth’s campaign is “emphatically unwelcome” and calling Duckworth a “carpet bagger” (she doesn’t live in the 6th District — a curious complaint, as I don’t remember many Democrats worried about the fact that Melissa Bean doesn’t live in her district). The letter goes on to express a lack of support for her campaign, and while she is welcome to attend this group’s upcoming meeting, “please be aware though that Duckworth’s campaign workers will not be allowed to speak nor will they be allowed to appear in her behalf.”

You can see some other reactions from local Democrats by visiting Daily Kos’s Tammy Duckworth page. Many of the reactions are of the “how dare Emmanuel decide who can run”, “why meddle in this race”, and “why fight Christine’s grassroots support” type. I just don’t get this. Why does Emmanuel get involved? Because he wants to win, and he’s not sure Christine can win. Congressional candidates need a million dollars or more to be successful, and Christine’s fundraising to date certainly leaves open the question whether she can get there. (Could she do better with institutional support? Sure. But could someone else bring more to the table? Maybe. That’s what Emmanuel’s trying to do.) Why meddle in the race? Because he wants to win. Local Democrats should want the same thing: to win. If Christine’s the right candidate to win, great. That’s why we have primaries: determine who’s the best candidate to represent the party, then go into the general election to let the voters decide who’s the best candidate to represent the district.

I was asked to join this party chair in barring Duckworth from running for Congress, something I absolutely refused to do. Here’s the text of the letter I sent in response to that request:

I appreciate [his] position, and though I’ve supported Christine’s campaigns (2004 and 2006), I do not see the basis for challenging Tammy’s right to run. It’s not my position to do so, and I’m strongly in favor of quality candidates who want to serve the party and their constituents. Do I know whether Tammy’s the right candidate? No. But I think it’s her job to make that case, not someone else’s job to shut down that avenue for her. As for the residency requirement, that’s a non-issue. We didn’t complain when Melissa Bean lived outside of her district, and there is no residency requirement written anywhere that says you must live in the district you run in.

I want to see Christine win in the primary, and beat Roskam. But the way to get her there is not to remove potential competitors. It’s to win by attracting a higher percentage of the vote than any competitors, and by outraising her competition. Shutting down potential competitors before they’ve had a chance to establish their fitness for the position is undemocratic, unfair and ultimately irresponsible.

Local Democrats should be thrilled that this race will now receive higher visibility, more money, and greater attention from state and national Democrats. Christine has been running for two years, which gives her a big head start (more than 1,000 contributors in this election cycle alone, hundreds of volunteers, some early endorsements). She’s a committed candidate, has assembled a good team around her and is working hard to win. I understand her supporters wishing they didn’t have an opponent in the primary, but for a party chair to try and rig the primary to remove any competition just because he disagrees with Emmanuel’s assessment of Christine’s chances is inexcusable.

We’re better than that. Or, I hoped we were.

Update: Michael at Damn Liberals disagrees with me here.

Late update: One Man weighs in.


  1. I think the attitude that some in your area have adopted underscores the largest problem facing the Democratic party today: lack of cohesion.

    As you mentioned, the primary is the process for the party to decide from among the candidates who have thrown their hat in the ring. Through that process we should get to know the candidates, their backgrounds, their beliefs, and chose one. Cegelis may be a fine candidate. But Duckworth may be a fine candidate, too. I'm going to give Emanuel the benefit of doubt; he may have a desire to win, but I don't think he would back a candidate he didn't also believe in.

    The Republican party has done (overall) an outstanding job of bringing together traditional conservatives, neocons, and the religious right. Now, as that confederacy starts to show signs of weakness and vulnerability, it is critical that the Democratic party show a strong united front. That doesn't mean not having a vigorous primary process, but it does (to me) mean setting aside this type of pedantic bickering.

    Pardon my bluntness, but let's not fsck it up. There are so many *positive* ways for people to channel this energy: volunteer for Cegelis; help her raise campaign money. When our own party attacks ad hominem a valid candidate, it doesn't increase our chances of getting any candidate in office: it lets the Republicans sit back and snicker, while we do their job for them.

  2. I respectfully disagree with the comments that have been made. Christine is a WONDERFUL candidate. The fact that she won 44% of the vote her first time out when she was running against a 30+ year incumbent (in a fairly conservative district) is nothing short of amazing. That fact alone should tell us that she can run a competitive race and has the ability to win.

    I have yet to hear anything about Duckworth--other than that she is an Iraq veteran and a double amputee. Sorry, but those two facts do not make someone a good candidate. Perhaps she is a good candidate, but my point is that no one seems to know anything relevant about her.

    Plus, if people are so worried about Christine's finances, why make her spend tons of money just to win the primary? Perhaps the money would be better spent running against the Republican (Roskam) in the actual election?

  3. I am a supporter of Christine's but, all of the thoughtless, nasty rhetoric about Duckworth means only one thing, we need better leaders in our local Democratic Party.

    Any citizen should have the opportunity to prove themselves to the voters. After all, we are Democrats, and this is supposed to be a democracy.

    Rahm Emanuel's actions are NOT a reflection on our beloved Christine. They are a reflection on our local leadership's lack of performance to win any elections.

    Rick Klau did the right thing in rejecting the negativity of that township chair. While the rest of you are infighting, you will be shedding much needed publicity on Duckworth, and the Republicans will be prepairing to cheat their way through another so called election. They do cheat, you know. So, hey, why don't you do something about that?

    And, stop giving money to the DCCC, and give it to Christine, I did.

  4. I actually live in Melissa Bean's district, not in Hyde's district. But I know how hard it is to win in a Republican district. Bean won because Crane was old and inept. This time, the republican is going to be Peter Roskam, a "fresh face" who will not be painted as a bumbling fool.

    Melissa Bean attracted Republican voters because of Crane. We can't use the same strategy in the 6th CD. Instead, we need to appeal to Republican voters because of the strength of our Democratic candidate.

    This is why I think Duckworth is a good choice. She served in Iraq and can tell it straight about the war. She'll bring credibility on national security and defense issues, which is where Republicans always beat us. She's got an interesting personal story, which, face it, is important when you're facing the voters.

    The bottom line is this - to win this district, we need a big majority of the independents and a number of Republicans. I think Duckworth gives us the best chance to do that.

  5. Memo to DNC: Go get some coffee

    The reactions to my comments about Tammy Duckworth’s campaign sure have been interesting. As expected, some of the comments (and private e-mails, of which there have been a number) express support for Christine and dismay at the DCCC’s hand...

  6. I watched Duckworth on CBS lst night. How do I contact her as well as Christine Cegelis?

    I'd like them to add the citizen initiated World Service Corps congressional proposals to their platforms. It will help them win votes and when passed be among the most significant legislation passed in decades.

    If the citizen-initiated congressional World Service Corps (WSC) proposals were passed into law this year, then six years from now one million additional Americans would voluntarily serve their nation at home or abroad in their choice of the: Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Head Start, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross International Rescue Committee, OxFam, State Conservation Corps, etc..

    Upon completion of service, volunteers would receive two years of community college plus two years of state college tuition (apx. $15,000 in 2004 dollars) or an equivalent amount paid into a Medical Savings or IRA account, or donated to relatives for educational tuition uses or to pay down college loans.

    If passed this year, the WSC legislation would be among the most significant legislation - and most inspiring programs -- passed in decades.

    Implementing the WSC into law strengthens America at home and abroad by:
    • Raising America's political IQ and thereby allowing us to implement better means of dealing with the world.
    • Winning international hearts and minds.
    • Improving living conditions at home and abroad.
    • Giving those who serve a solid, real life education in the classroom of the world on how it works.
    • Building an army of can-do Americans to handle hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters.
    • Strengthening national pride and cohesion and it does this without,
    • Creating a vast new bureaucracy but instead by strengthening existing governmental and non-governmental agencies with serving Americans.

    You can immediately help by signing the on-line petition at:

    Details and the full bills are at web site:

    The key WSC proposed bill is at:

    Some publications and television coverage on WSC are at:

    Please encourage others to consider these crucial proposals and establish links at your web sites that will help others support them.

  7. I'm disappointed at Rick's support for the candidacy of Duckworth. We don't need a carpet bagger and we don't need someone who basically supports the Bush perspective of staying in Iraq however long it takes. Her inability to establish a timeline for withdrawal signals her inability to "make the hard choices" she claims she would make.

    I think it's telling that she is quoted as saying “I volunteered because I serve the American people,” she said. “I didn't go to Iraq because of the Iraqi people.” That is exactly the Bush perspective on Iraq except in a minute of candor he might substitute "american oil companies". I did visit Baghdad on numerous occasions in the late 80's and I do care about the people there. It's time we took account of Iraqi feelings--which according to the British military poll were nearly unanimous that the coalition forces should leave forthwith.

    Based on my experience in the Middle East, the US government--especially the Bush government--is very much involved in the Great Game. If Duckworth doesn't understand this, she cannot make informed choices about either Iraq or the Middle East.

    Undoubtedly, her campaign will draw money and support away from Cegelis and we'll find Roskam an easy winner in the general election.

    Rick, it's time to lead, not follow Emanuel!

    Best regards,
    Byron Miller

  8. This article is great and some of the responses are awesome. I supprt all democrats running in my area. We, as proud democrats, need to leave our fights for the primaries, but once the primaries are over, we need to stand with the nominee. If we do not, we can never win. If Christine Cegelis had won the primary she would have my support in any way she needed it to win. And more about how Tammy lives out of district...She lives right over the district line in a house that hundreds of volunteers from the area completely gutted to make completely wheelchair accessible. Her home is made with the sweat of people she does and doesn't know, but who all gave a lot to help a wounded woman. Any attacks on her residency are frankly absurd.