When Tammy Duckworth let it be known back in June that she would run for Congress from the 8th District of Illinois, a reporter asked Raja Krishnamoorthi, who had already entered the primary race, if he would now withdraw.
Krishnamoorthi surely did not care for the question, but it was a fair one. He was a credible candidate, but what chance did he have against Duckworth, a highly decorated former Army major and helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in the Iraq War, who almost beat the odds and won a seat to Congress from a heavily Republican district six years ago, who delivered a prime time speech at the 2008 Democratic Party convention, and who was named by President Obama to a top post in the Department of Veterans Affairs?
This is the candidate who Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, says is “like a daughter.”
But in reply to the reporter’s question, Krishnamoorthi – Harvard Law school graduate, former partner in a top international law firm, former deputy state treasurer and current businessman – said, “I’m in this race.”
Seven months later, Krishnamoorthi, 38, not only remains in the race, but is running hard. He’s raised more than $1 million and picked up a string of local endorsements, most notably that of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Krishnamoorthi’s prospects, nonetheless, look daunting. Duckworth, 43, is swamping him in the polls. A Normington Petts poll taken in mid-January showed Duckworth leading Krishnamoorthi 59 percent to 17 percent. Her name recognition was 83 percent and her favorable-unfavorable rating was 67 percent to 7 percent.
This is a marquee race in the Illinois Democratic primary, largely because the winner is far and away favored to beat Republican incumbent Joe Walsh in November. The district was so severely redrawn last year to favor a Democrat that Walsh talked for a time about jumping ship and running for re-election in another district.
Krishnamoorthi’s strategy has been to express respect for Duckworth, but to argue that this election, at a time of “economic suffering by millions of Americans,” is about who can do a better job of creating jobs. Among other ideas, he would “jump-start” small businesses by easing their access to capital, providing payroll tax relief to make hiring easier, and invest in research and development programs.
As president of a company that does basic research on high-tech national security systems, Sivananthan Laboratories, Krishnamoorthi says he is “on the frontier of this economic crisis every day.” He previously ran unsuccessfully for state comptroller.
Duckworth says she knows well what it’s like to go through hard times, having watched her parents struggle. When her father was laid off at age 55, he went from being a well-paid white-collar executive to an inspector in a chicken-processing plant. “So I know,” Duckworth said, “what people are going through.”
But Duckworth’s best-selling point for many Democrats is her personal story of survival in war and rehabilitation at home. It’s a story that makes her bullet-proof, even as she calls for cuts in military spending, against Republican charges of being anti-military or soft on terrorists.