Updated 11:52 a.m. | Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth announced Monday she will run for Senate, giving Democrats a top-tier candidate in a must-win seat in 2016.
"I'm running for the United States Senate in 2016 because it's time for Washington to be held accountable, and to put Illinois families and communities first," Duckworth said in a video announcing her candidacy.
National Democrats say Duckworth's profile is the best match to take on Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk, a moderate Republican who is running for his first re-election in the solidly Democratic state.
Duckworth is an Army veteran who lost both her legs and sustained damage to her arm when a helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was shot down. Kirk is also a veteran and is disabled from a stroke he suffered in January 2012.
But Duckworth may not have the Democratic field to herself. Reps. Bill Foster and Robin Kelly are also mulling bids . A contested primary in Illinois could be costly for Democrats, who must net five seats to ensure Senate control.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, who has been a champion for Duckworth, told CQ Roll Call in January he thinks Democrats will work to avoid a messy nomination process.
Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, who had been considering a bid, said in a Monday statement to CQ Roll Call that a bid is unlikely. She stopped short of formally backing Duckworth, but indicated an endorsement could come at some point.
"We’ve got a deep bench of strong potential candidates in Illinois, many of whom are friends and colleagues," Bustos said. "I’m not making any formal endorsement at this time. But if you look at Tammy's record of standing up for American manufacturing, for working women and their families, and for our veterans, it's clear to me she fights for the things that are important to my constituents."
Kirk is top among the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's targets . He was elected to the Senate in the 2010 GOP wave, defeating a lackluster Democratic opponent by a slim margin.
But the electorate is expected to be much more favorable for Democrats in 2016. President Barack Obama carried his home state by double-digit margins in 2008 and 2012. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to announce a presidential bid within weeks, could see similar support and boost down-ballot Democrats.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately attacked Duckworth for being a "partisan politician" who votes with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"Senator Kirk’s record of accomplishment and thoughtful independence will outshine any candidate that emerges from the Democrat primary in Illinois," NRSC Communications Director Andrea Bozek said in a statement Monday.
Duckworth's Senate bid now opens up her 8th District, located in the suburbs west of Chicago. Three Democrats are actively considering bids for the seat. They are:
- Former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lost to Duckworth in a 2012 primary. Though he lost that primary by a wide margin, he proved to be an adept fundraiser, bringing in more than $1 million for the contest.
- State Sen. Tom Cullerton, who won a competitive state legislative seat in 2012. Cullerton comes from a powerful Illinois political family, and has strong ties to labor — which could help him in a primary bid.
- State Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin, Ill.,-based state legislator and veteran. A source close to Noland said he is "seriously considering" entering the race.
Obama carried the 8th District by 17 points in 2012.
Related: Democrats Maneuver for Illinois House Seat Tammy Duckworth: I’m ‘Taking a Real Serious Look’ at Senate Run Kirk Starts 2016 as an Underdog First Senate Race Ratings Revealed Mark Kirk: ‘No Frickin’ Way Am I Retiring’ Kirk Vs. Duckworth for Senate in 2016? The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.