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Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, a darling of national Democratic politicians, elbows into a northwestern Chicagoland House race where a lesser-known candidate with strong local ties is already running.
Sound familiar? It should. In 2006, Duckworth barely defeated Christine Cegelis, a poorly funded primary opponent who was beloved among the Democratic net roots.
This cycle, Duckworth and former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi are running for the Democratic nod in the redrawn 8th district. Once again, Duckworth is taking on a Democrat with grass-roots support, and some of the heaviest hitters in Illinois politics are backing her.
"In some ways his story mirrors mine," Cegelis, a Krishnamoorthi backer, said. "I know she wanted to run for political office, I'm just surprised she picked this race at this time, when we already had such a strong candidate — much stronger than I was."
In 2006, Duckworth defeated Cegelis by 4 points in the primary before losing to Rep. Peter Roskam, a shrewd campaigner, by fewer than 5,000 votes in the general election.
Duckworth has a big advantage over Krishnamoorthi because she's well-known among Chicago Democrats because of her last race. But she also has a few new challenges in the 8th district race this cycle, including a better-funded primary opponent.
"I know she lost, but she's memorable," said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who is not affiliated with any of the candidates. "She has a good story. She's recognizable. She's a woman. She's a veteran. She's going to be tough to beat."
In 2006, national news outlets fawned over the disabled war veteran's personal story. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) cut an advertisement for Duckworth, and high-profile veterans and elected officials, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), fundraised for her.
But Duckworth's nationalized 2006 bid lacked local support — a problem exacerbated by the fact that she lived a few miles outside the district. Duckworth's challenge once again this cycle will be to try to prove her local ties.
"She's got a great story to tell, a lot of people nationally know her story," Chicago Democratic consultant Kitty Kurth said. "But her challenge once again is to make sure the people at the PTA, the grocery store and in the neighborhoods know her story."
While some of the territory from the current 6th district was moved into the new 8th during redistricting, a little less than half of the voters have never seen Duckworth's name on a ballot before. The new 8th district was drawn to heavily favor Democrats, so next year's primary will be tantamount to the general election — something that was not the case when Duckworth ran five years ago in a district that favored the GOP.