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Obama, Biden endorse Tammy Duckworth for Senate

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth | AP file photo

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., for Senate on Wednesday, giving her a big boost in her bid to defeat Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

It’s not so much a surprise that Democrats back a Democrat — it’s that the Obama and Biden endorsements signal that they will stump in Illinois for Duckworth and help in other ways.

For the Duckworth team, it’s a welcome boost as her campaign pivots to the general after a tougher than expected Democratic primary.

Obama met Duckworth, an Iraq War vet, when he was a senator from Illinois and she was recovering from injuries suffered after her helicopter was shot down in combat. After he was elected president, Obama tapped her in 2009 to serve as assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs. She held that position until 2011, when she left to run for a House seat.

The White House endorsements come as a Kirk campaign poll shows that Duckworth and Kirk are in a statistical tie, with Duckworth holding a small lead.

Kirk’s team is aiming to weaken Duckworth by attacking her record on veterans issues. Kirk and Duckworth — both retired military officers — are making their work with veterans centerpieces of their campaigns.

Obama specifically praised Duckworth’s work with vets in his statement, suggesting that her political team wants to be aggressive on this front to make it harder for Kirk or his allies to argue she is not working on behalf of veterans.

“I’m proud to support Tammy Duckworth for the seat I once held in the United States Senate,” Obama said in a statement.

“Few people fight as passionately for our veterans as Tammy. Soon after I was first elected president, I asked her to join my administration and serve her fellow veterans at the VA. She served with purpose and distinction — service that continued when she ran for Congress and won. And I was proud to sign one of Tammy’s signature pieces of legislation — the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act — into law.

Duckworth said in a statement that she was “profoundly grateful” Obama recognized “my commitment to serve my fellow veterans and gave me the opportunity to do so in the earliest days of his administration.”

Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said in a statement, “one day after the race was called a statistical tie, the Duckworth team was forced to roll out an endorsement from the President. . . . Duckworth’s record at the Department of Veterans Affairs — both in DC and Illinois — is a critical liability . . .”

Obama did wade into one Illinois primary, endorsing ads for Juliana Stratton over incumbent state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Ill., whom she beat in a state House contest.