Sweet column: Vets chief Duckworth mulling House rematch.

SHARE Sweet column: Vets chief Duckworth mulling House rematch.
SHARE Sweet column: Vets chief Duckworth mulling House rematch.

WASHINGTON — Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth told the Chicago Sun-Times she is considering a second run for Congress, torn this Memorial Day weekend over whether she can do more good for vets in her current post or in the House.

Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet, is weighing a rematch with Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) in the west suburban 6th District after a narrow loss to him in 2006.

“I am wrestling with it on a daily basis,” she said when we talked Sunday.

Duckworth, who lost both legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, was tapped by Gov. Blagojevich to run the state veterans agency last November. A major in the Illinois National Guard, Duckworth is married to Brian Bowlsbey, also a major in the Guard, who will be deployed to Iraq in a few weeks. Duckworth told me she will not make a decision until her husband was “in country and settled in.”

She said she is uncertain about running again because as the top state veterans official, “I am actually making things happen.”

In six months, Duckworth has helped develop state programs giving tax credits to employers who hire vets who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or Desert Storm, more state grants to service organizations, and backing for below-market mortgages for veterans. She is also maintaining a high national profile — she was featured Sunday morning in a CNN piece about soldiers returning from Iraq with severe injuries.

Iraq will still be an issue in the 2008 contest, and Duckworth said she would have voted “no” on the war spending bill Congress passed last week.

The 6th District is heavily Republican, and Democrats in 2006 targeted the seat being vacated by Rep. Henry Hyde because it was open. Roskam beat Duckworth with 91,382 votes to 86,572 in a district with precincts in DuPage and Cook counties. Duckworth won the smaller Cook County portion in a race where turnout was depressed — perhaps because of voters’ disenchantment with the machinations leading to Todd Stroger running for Cook County Board president.

In 2008, Duckworth’s turnout could be boosted by powerful coattails: Sen. Dick Durbin, who first persuaded Duckworth to run, will be leading the state ballot, and White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama will either be the presidential or vice presidential nominee or campaigning on behalf of the national ticket. In addition, Roskam would be running without the fund-raising juice of the House speaker, who in 2006 was Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

One of her advisers, Bill Brandt, who raised money for Duckworth, said the “real issue” is for Duckworth to determine the “best way to deal with this avalanche of injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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