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Congressional candidates Duckworth, Krishnamoorthi vy for Northwest Side seat

Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth at Fulton's on the River, 315 N. LaSalle Street, Thursday, September 22, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Would Northwest suburban Democrats prefer a congresswoman who would be the party’s go-to person to appear on TV and talk military and veterans’ issues? Or a congressman who says he’ll be more attuned to the needs of the district and small-business owners?

Tammy Duckworth, who turns 44 on Monday, made national headlines when the Black Hawk helicopter pilot who was shot down over Iraq nearly took Henry Hyde’s seat in Congress in 2006.

Former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, 38, got nearly half of Illinois’ Democratic voters to punch his challenging last name when he ran for state comptroller in 2010.

Now they face off in a new district created by state Democrats to connect Democratic parts of Schaumburg, Elgin and Carpentersville, Lombard, Bensenville and Wheeling.

Some say this district was drawn just for Krishnamoorthi to maximize Asian – and especially Indian-American voters.

But almost as soon as he announced and began locking in the endorsements of most local elected Democrats, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Duckworth began floating her nationally recoginized name.

She left her post as Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs in the Obama administration. Polls showed her name recognition among Democratic voters dwarfed Krishnamoorthi’s. Some Democrats advised Krishnamoorthi to drop out or run in an adjacent district.

But Krishnamoorthi stuck it out, holding most of his endorsements even as bigger names such as Mayor Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin went for Duckworth.

On the issues, the two candidates admit they differ little. They largely support President Obama’s agenda.

Krishnamoorthi’s television commcerial mocks him using his 24-page jobs plan to wipe snow off a voter’s windshield.

Duckworth said on Chicago Tonight last week that she had a jobs plan too, and “Our plans are very similar.”

Krishnamoorthi quarreled with that.

“I actually printed out Tammy Duckworth’s plan: It’s actually two and three-quarter pages long,” he said. “These are sound bites. The question for the voters is do you want substance or do you want sound bites?”

Obama Senior Adviser Dave Axelrod said Duckworth will be able to walk into the well of Congress “on those titanium legs and with that spine of steel” and authoritatively articulate the Democratic stand on military issues.

“I dare them to question my patriotism,” she said.

Krishnamoorthi, who now runs a high-tech company, said he can speak better to economic issues as a small-business owner.

Krishnamoorthi was born in New Delhi, India, and came to America at the age of three months. He grew up in Peoria.

Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a father in the U.S. military and a mother of Chinese heritage who grew up in Thailand.

The winner of the March 20 Democratic primary election will face Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in November.