Meet Tammy Duckworth, candidate for Illinois U.S. Senate

Tammy Duckworth says she’s running for senate to serve all the people of her home state.

It’s been a long campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, but it is nowhere near the fight of her life.

"I was one of the first women to fly a combat mission in Iraq.

Duckworth wanted to see combat, so she says she trained to be an Army helicopter pilot. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission in Iraq.

While on a mission in Iraq on November 12, 2004, she was flying a black hawk helicopter  when a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through the cockpit, taking her legs and nearly her life.

“When I was bleeding to death in that helicopter, my crew members came and got me," she said. "I wake up and i look in the mirror and I try to be worthy of that."

"What I remember about that day, every single day is the fact that when I needed the most help, there were people there to save me," she said.

She stayed in the Army for another decade, and says that moment solidified her commitment to public service. For her, that meant getting involved in politics and policy.

Duckworth first ran for Congress 10 years ago. She lost that 2006 race to Peter Roskam, then worked for both the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Veterans will be my life’s work. I was very proud of the work I did when I was at the VA," she said.

In 2011, it was a race of a different kind. The double-amputee competed in the Chicago Marathon with 20 Wounded Warriors using a hand-crank bike. A year later, she jumped back into politics and ran for Congress again, this time beating Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh. She won an aggressive, and hard-fought campaign.

The Hoffman Estates lawmaker is now finishing her second term representing the state’s 8th District. During her time in Washington, Duckworth has demonstrated an independent streak and a willingness to buck her party.

"I’m not someone who’s willing to sign a blank check. I’ve stood up to my party and my own president," she said.

But Duckworth has the unqualified support of President Obama, who came to Chicago to campaign for her.

"I can’t think of a better person to represent this state that I love," Obama said.

Still, she has voted for military budgets that that the president opposed and broke with Democrats and her union supporters to vote with Republicans on a bill that would make it easier to fire VA employees involved in misconduct.

"Every time an issue comes up, you can count on me to be there to fight back," she said.

She said she would not support sending troops overseas without a clear exit strategy. Duckworth is the only member of the House Armed Services Committee from Illinois.

"When people start sounding the drums of war, I want to be there to be the voice of, 'this is what it’s going to cost,'" she said.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii, a master's in international affairs from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in human services from Capella University. But two years ago, she got another title: Mom. She gave birth to her daughter Abigail.

Duckworth is now 48 years old and wrapping up the biggest political campaign of her life. Throughout the campaign, Mark Kirk has questioned her record and even her heritage. Duckworth’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, but her father’s family traces its roots back to the American Revolution.

 

"I'd forgotten your parents came from Thailand to fight for George Washington," he said in their first televised debate.

But Duckworth says she knows there are battles of a different kind here at home …

"I want us to be in a renaissance of manufacturing," she said.

Affordable education and lower student debt are central themes of her campaign, so is affordable healthcare. She says the Affordable Care Act must be fixed, not nixed.

"They have a choice in this election. They can vote for my opponent who has voted multiple times to end the Affordable Care Act, just to get rid of it. I disagree with that approach. I think it needs to be fixed.”)

She’ll have one more chance to make her case directly to voters on stage with Kirk in a final debate just four days before the election.