PI Original Steven Ross Johnson Monday June 4th, 2012, 2:27pm

On The Campaign Trail With Tammy Duckworth (VIDEO)

Progress Illinois joined Democratic candidate for the 8th congressional district Tammy Duckworth on one of her recent stops on her American Dream Tour. Here's a look at what's happening on the campaign trail in the race for the 8th congressional district.

A recent campaign stop for Democratic 8th Congressional District nominee Tammy Duckworth was a bit off of the beaten path from the large-scale rallies and national television appearances usually associated with the high-profile candidate.

In a very small and intimate event held last week, the Iraq War veteran and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs visited the Schaumburg home of one of her supporters to meet with a group of constituents who took the opportunity to express their concerns over some of the more pressing issues being discussed this election.

The night marked the fifth stop on her “American Dream Tour”, the purpose of which, she said, was to provide her with an opportunity to listen to voters’ concerns and connect with them in a more personal way than giving speeches and reciting talking points.

“The whole point [of this tour] is for me to listen,” Duckworth said. “Because I think you get enough people talking to you and at you.”

Here’s more from Duckworth on holding smaller gatherings to convey her message to voters, as well as her thoughts on how the presidential race may impact her own chances of winning:

Surrounded by about eight attendees, Duckworth sat in the center of a semi-circle as participants asked for her thoughts on a range of issues from health care reform and the economy, to the seemingly unending contentious climate in Washington between politicians in both parties.

The proceedings began with Duckworth providing her personal story on what inspired her to run for office. Duckworth ran once before for Congress in 2006, losing against Republican Peter Roskam for the 6th District seat of retiring, longtime incumbent Henry Hyde (R).  

“We went through our entire life savings and ended up on food stamps,” Duckworth said about her life as a teenager. “If it wasn’t for programs like Pell Grants and if it wasn’t for affordable student loans I never would have gone to college – I never would have finished high school, and so those parts of the American Dream that were provided for by the American taxpayer allowed me to get myself set up so that I could join the army.”

Talk quickly turned to the first debate of the campaign, which was held last month and largely viewed as a contentious affair from start to finish as Duckworth and her opponent, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R- McHenry), used the forum to highlight their seemingly polar opposite views on every issue.

On its website, NBC Chicago Ward Room political blogger Edward McClelland declared Walsh the winner, saying the Tea Party-backed incumbent “…used his superior rhetorical and public speaking skills to portray himself as a reasonable, fiscally-responsible congressman, and Duckworth as a servant of the special interests.”

“I went into the debate needing to make sure that we made it clear that Joe Walsh was trying to end social security,” Duckworth said. “He never answered a question that night he talked in very large hyperbole and never actually came up with any ideas – my whole point of the debate was to come up with ideas.”

On the issue of health care reform, Duckworth said she was mostly in favor of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, calling it “a good thing with flaws”, but advocated for eventually moving toward a single-payer type of health care system. Duckworth gained national notoriety in 2004 after the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq, resulting in the loss of both of her legs.

“If I’d been injured in a really bad car accident on I-90 and not lost my legs in combat but lost my legs in a car accident, my family and I would be bankrupt,” Duckworth said. “I sincerely believe that as a developed nation, Americans should have access to a basic level of health care.”

When asked what she would do to address the federal budget deficit, Duckworth said while it was important to cut wasteful spending, she opposed cuts in funding to social programs while tax cuts for high-income earners were in place.      

“We have to cut, we have a budget deficit and we have to be serious about cutting,” Duckworth said. “But why are we cutting from the weak and the vulnerable.”

Questions for the candidate quickly turned to commentary as the group began repeatedly voicing their frustrations over what they felt had become an acrimonious climate in Washington between Democrats and Republicans in the past few years.  Duckworth responded by stressing her willingness to work with lawmakers from either party while taking the opportunity to criticize Walsh, calling him a self-proclaimed “poster child for the Tea Party.”

“Joe Walsh has said he wants to be a poster child for the Tea Party, he’s there to say no, he’s not there to compromise or work with anyone,” Duckworth said. “I’m coming from the other end of the spectrum – I’m going to keep reaching across [the aisle], if my hands get smacked, then I’m going to just keep putting it out there.”

Frustrations over the ongoing partisanship among Washington lawmakers was what inspired Roselle resident Jerry Butz to attend the meeting and lend his support to Duckworth, whose pragmatism he felt made her “the right person for this district”.

“We’ve always had politics; liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, but since 2008 when President Obama was elected it just degenerated into this absolute wall of opposition,” Butz said. “We’re not going to get anything done of all we do is engage in a pissing contest.”

The race between Duckworth and Walsh has received national attention since the challenger announced her candidacy last year, with many viewing it as one of the most hotly-contested congressional contests this election cycle.

Since winning the seat from Democrat Melissa Bean in 2010, Walsh has come under criticism for controversial rhetoric that has come to serve as a rallying cry for those hopeful the appeal of Duckworth coupled with a district that was redistricted last year to include more Democratic-leaning communities will lead to the incumbent’s defeat come November.

According to a House Majority poll conducted in January by pollster, Public Policy Polling, Walsh faces an uphill battle toward getting re-elected, with the congressman trailing a generic Democratic opponent at the time 49 percent to 35 percent.

Image: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

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