Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Hill: Cegelis, Duckworth in pre-primary maneuvers

Cegelis, Duckworth in pre-primary maneuvers
By Peter Savodnik

Christine Cegelis (D), seeking the seat being vacated by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), said yesterday that she would play up her 6th District roots in the race — drawing a sharp contrast with Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who is mulling a bid but lives outside the district.

“It’ll be about me, about how basically I’ve been a resident of this district for the last 20 years,” Cegelis said of her campaign for the suburban-Chicago seat.

“I think I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I know the people of my district,” she added. “I’ve got the organization that I have been building over the last two years.”

Cegelis ran unsuccessfully against Hyde in 2004. Her supporters have noted that she gave the Republican congressman his tightest race in decades, winning 44 percent to Hyde’s 56 percent in the GOP-leaning district.

Duckworth did not return an e-mail message.

Lori Goldberg of Jasulca/Terman and Associates, a public relations firm in Chicago that is helping Duckworth, would say only that her candidate is waiting for the Army to release her from active duty.

Duckworth, who lost both her legs while piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, has applied to a medical review board at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to be released from duty.

She has received encouragement from leading Democrats to enter the race: She has spoken with Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; one of Sen. Dick Durbin’s aides, David McDermott, is helping her. Emanuel and Durbin are Illinois Democrats.

A spokesman for Durbin said that the senator is not getting involved in the primary and that McDermott is taking vacation time to work for Duckworth. Democrats outside Durbin’s office, including Cegelis, say the senator and other Democrats in Washington support Duckworth.

Cegelis said she was “very disappointed” with Emanuel and Durbin but added that she has not spoken with either lawmaker about the matter.

“I still feel, regardless, this is going to be decided by the Democratic voters in my district,” she said. “I still believe that’s the democratic process.”

Duckworth has until Dec. 19 to file for a House bid. A source close to Duckworth said Duckworth should hear from the military about her release — a prerequisite for a political bid — within a week.

A Republican source in Illinois with extensive knowledge of the race questioned Duckworth’s strategy, noting that the “non-candidate candidate,” as some in the GOP call her, has Democratic consultant David Axelrod in her corner and has begun circulating petitions for her campaign with local officials.

“She basically has a campaign going, but she says she’s prohibited from talking about it,” the Republican said, adding that the Democrat’s actions may breach Federal Election Commission regulations.

Duckworth also has not shied away from public comment about the Iraq war; she testified this year to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “She can’t comment on the war now that the Democrats are behind her,” the Republican said.

Ryan McLaughlin, the campaign manager for state Sen. Peter Roskam, the likely Republican contender in the House race, would not comment on Duckworth. McLaughlin said Roskam is focused on the primary and will worry about his Democratic foe when he has one. Roskam faces no opposition in the GOP primary.

Gayl Ferraro, chairwoman of the DuPage County Democratic Party, said the issue of Duckworth’s residency coupled with her outside backing could hurt her prospects.

Ferraro noted that Democrats in DuPage, many of whom back Cegelis, have been working for years to build the party despite long odds.

In last year’s presidential election, Ferraro said, approximately 180,000 Democrats cast votes in DuPage, compared to 230,000 for Republicans. In earlier races, fewer than 100,000 Democrats usually turned up at the polls.

The 6th District race, once thought to be an easy GOP hold, has garnered more attention lately.

First, Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran, nearly won a House race in Ohio’s strongly Republican 2nd District over the summer. Then Duckworth signaled she might run. Then, with opposition to the war mounting, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), an early supporter of the war, called last month for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Several Democrats who have served in uniform are now running or contemplating bids across the country.

Should Duckworth run, the general election would be one of the few contests in the country that would be truly competitive next year, Democrats contend.

Democrats in Washington have praised Cegelis as smart and likable but voiced skepticism about her chances of beating Roskam, despite routinely adding that Roskam is “too conservative” for the district.

Roskam has been endorsed by Hyde. The candidate once worked for Hyde and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

© 2005 The Hill

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