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.