For Duckworth, who is running in a northwest suburban district against tea party-backed freshman Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, it was the second appearance on the national stage in two consecutive conventions. The story of her rescue after the Blackhawk assault helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004 provided the theme for her speech.
“In that moment, my survival — and the survival of my entire crew — depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves, and insurgents were nearby, they simply refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I’m alive today,” said Duckworth, who lost both legs and partial use of her right arm in the attack.
“Ultimately that is what this election is about,” said Duckworth, who drew chants of “USA! USA!” “It’s about whether we do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me, whether we’ll look out for the hardest hit and the disabled, whether we’ll pull together in a time of need, whether we’ll refuse to give up until the job is done.”
A former assistant secretary in the Obama administration’s Veterans Affairs department and former director of Illinois’ Department of Veterans Affairs, Duckworth promoted the Democratic president’s efforts as commander in chief, including ending the Iraq War, refocusing military to Afghanistan and “eradicating” terrorist leaders including Osama bin Laden. She drew chants of “USA, USA.”
She also noted his work to eliminate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell regarding gays in the military and allowing women to serve in more combat roles, saying “don’t you think it’s time that we stopped being surprised that America’s daughters are just as capable of doing their jobs and defending liberty as her sons.” She accused Republican nominee Mitt Romney of ignoring the military in his acceptance speech in Tampa last week.
Duckworth only made mention of her own campaign in introducing herself to the audience as someone running in Illinois’ new 8th District, which was drawn by Democrats mindful of her as a candidate.
Both Walsh and Duckworth sought to use the speech as a campaign fundraising opportunity in e-mails to supporters. Walsh, who opted to stay home and campaign instead of attending the GOP convention, criticized Duckworth throughout the day.
“The Democratic Party insiders gave her a prime time slot on opening night because she has always been the preferred pick of the Democratic elite,” Walsh wrote in an email to supporters.
“After all, she’s been Blago’s bureaucrat and Rahm’s pick for a generously drawn district,” he said, referring to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, under whom she served at the state’s veterans’ agency and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Unfortunately, the time she dedicates to being a political celebrity comes at the expense of listening to voter’s concerns and addressing the issues that matter most.”
Prior to her speech, Duckworth maintained that Walsh had “put the tea party in front of his own constituents.”
She said the biggest difference between herself and the freshman Republican was “understanding your responsibilities as a member of Congress.” Noting controversial comments Walsh has made ranging from her military service to suggesting followers of radical Islam were in the northwest suburbs, Duckworth said as a member of Congress, “you’re not speaking just for yourself. You’re speaking for your district and for your country.”