Reporting Craig Dellimore
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Updated 07/04/12 – 1:31 p.m.
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (CBS) – Republican Congressman Joe Walsh isn’t apologizing for his statement that Democratic rival Tammy Duckworth seems to talk too much about her military service record.
Duckworth, who is running against Walsh in the 8th Congressional District, lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 2004.
At a town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village on Sunday, Walsh compared Duckworth to U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam veteran who ran against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Walsh said McCain downplayed his military career in his campaign against Obama.
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“Understand something about John McCain. His political advisors, day after day, had to take him and almost throw him against the wall, and hit him against the head, and say ‘Senator, you have to let people know you served. You have to talk about what you did.’ He didn’t want to do it, wouldn’t do it,” Walsh told the crowd at the town hall meeting. “I’m running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”
Duckworth’s campaign has said Walsh’s comments were an insult to veterans.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who was marching in the 4th of July parade in Des Plaines on Wednesday, said Walsh owes Duckworth an apology.
“She’s always there for our veterans, and our guard members, and all of those who wear the uniform of our country. Any kind of critical remark about Tammy Duckworth’s service to our country is way out of bounds,” Quinn said.
The governor said he visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2004, about a week after Duckworth was injured in Iraq, and was impressed at how much time she spent trying to lift the spirits of other wounded veterans.
“I was so inspired by the fact that she was going room to room, with other veterans who had also been terribly wounded, cheering them up. And that’s the kind of person she is. She’s my hero. I think she’s America’s hero,” Quinn said.
But Walsh wasn’t apologizing on Wednesday as he marched in the July 4th parade in Hoffman estates, and he wasn’t backing down from his assertion that Duckworth talks only about her military service and her injuries in Iraq, and not about the issues in the campaign.
“I’ve said 100 times Tammy Duckworth is an absolute hero. Every man or woman that wore that uniform, in my book, is a hero. But she’s running for Congress. We want to know, the people want to know, where she stands on issues,” he said. “All she talks about is her war service – and, again, we are thankful for that – but tell me where you stand on issues, and for some reason she avoids people and won’t.”
Duckworth was also marching in the Hoffman Estates parade, not far behind Walsh. She said he is just distracting attention from his votes against a federal transportation bill and lowering student loan rates.
“If he wants to talk about the issues, he needs to talk about the fact that he is the only member of the entire Illinois delegation to vote against the transportation bill last week, and he’s the one who’s talking about military service, not me. He’s the one that’s actually out there trying to distract voters,” Duckworth said. “We need to be focused on the issues, and Joe Walsh chooses the 4th of July to insult veterans, when we really should be looking at what we can do for the people of this district, and he’s done nothing for them.”
Her campaign has said Walsh’s comments about her were an insult to veterans who were injured or killed while serving the country.
Duckworth, a former state and federal veterans affairs official, is challenging Walsh, a first-term Congressman, for his seat in the northern and northwestern suburbs.
The race has drawn national interest from both parties, and promises to be one of the most heated races in the state, as well as one of the most closely watched campaigns in the November election.