Democrats Find Second Iraq Vet to Take on Roskam

Posted October 17, 2007 at 6:58pm

The similarities between Tammy Duckworth (D) and Jill Morgenthaler (D) are eerie: They’ve both served in the military in Iraq, worked in Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) administration and neither live in the state’s 6th district.

But Democrats appear to be hoping Morgenthaler and Duckworth have at least one difference — that Morgenthaler can do what Duckworth couldn’t in 2006: beat Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).

Morgenthaler, a colonel who was at the center of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal as an Army spokeswoman in Iraq in 2004, has not officially announced her candidacy, but Democrats in the district say she definitely is in the race.

York Township Democratic Organization Chairman Bob Wagner said Morgenthaler held an event at party headquarters on Saturday, has two staffers and has begun petitioning to get on the Feb. 5 primary ballot.

“She’s in for sure,” Wagner said.

Christine Cegelis, a 2004 and 2006 Democratic House candidate who remains active in the district, said Morgenthaler called her to say she was running and mentioned that she had been recruited by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the previous cycle and recruited Duckworth into the race — and heavily promoted her.

Emanuel’s office did not respond to a message Wednesday seeking comment.

Despite the hype about her candidacy, Duckworth lost to Roskam 51 percent to 49 percent in the west-suburban Chicago district, which gave President Bush 53 percent of the vote in 2004.

Morgenthaler currently is Blagojevich’s deputy chief of staff for public safety. Her office said she has worked for the state for almost two years and commutes daily to the state capital of Springfield from her home outside Chicago.

Morgenthaler did not respond to a call for comment by press time Wednesday.

“I think she’s going to be a good candidate,” Cegelis said. “She’s worked a lot, had a lot of background. I don’t want to say anything against her or for her because we really don’t know her yet.”

Morgenthaler’s entrance could give Democrats a fifth pickup opportunity in Illinois. They already are playing offense in three open seats and with incumbent Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R) district north of Chicago.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee pointed to Duckworth and Cegelis opting against running this year as a sign of Roskam’s strength.

“They’ve already had two candidates take a pass against running against Roskam, so that suggests he’s a pretty good fit for the district,” NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. “He’s a top-notch Representative and has really hit the ground running.”

Morgenthaler has a similar profile to Duckworth, who lost both her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq before seeking the open seat against Roskam. Duckworth has run the state Department of Veterans Affairs since then.

Considering the party support Morgenthaler apparently enjoys and Illinois’ early primary date, Morgenthaler’s entrance should clinch the Democratic nomination for her. The other announced candidate in the race, businessman Stan Jagla, did not raise enough money to file with the Federal Election Commission through the third quarter and was “not really an A-level candidate,” according to Wagner.

Duckworth did not live in the district when she ran, and Wagner said Morgenthaler doesn’t either but is open to moving if she gets elected.

Roskam hit Duckworth in 2006 on her refusal to move into the district, and his campaign Web site already reinforces that he is “From Our District, For Our District …”

The incumbent also is off to a healthy fundraising head start, having raised $150,000 in the third quarter and banked $610,000.

It remains to be seen how Morgenthaler might attempt to parlay her service in Iraq to electoral success. A Web journal she had while in Iraq, “GI Jill’s Adventures in Baghdad,” mostly celebrates success in the war and vents about the negativity of American media coverage of Iraq.

But Morgenthaler might be Democrats’ best hope.

John Kupper, a media consultant at a Chicago firm that advises Emanuel and worked for Duckworth last cycle, said Democrats should try to cast Roskam as a “reflexive right-winger.”

“He ran as something else two years ago, but now he’s proved to be exactly what Tammy suggested he would be,” said Kupper, who said he did not know of Morgenthaler. “Any legitimate candidate in that district now has the opportunity to make that case.”