Duckworth’s Senate bid gets boost from Dems, fundraising

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Rep. Tammy Duckworth (left) appears at a news conference Wednesday with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, Jack Reid, Bob Menendez, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, and Chuck Schumer. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s Illinois Senate bid picked up considerable steam on Wednesday, gaining the backing of Senate Democrats as her campaign reported robust second-quarter fundraising results.

All this adds up to a steeper climb for Duckworth’s Democratic primary rival, attorney Andrea Zopp, and a bigger potential battle for Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., as he seeks a second term.

On Wednesday:

• Duckworth got a boost by appearing with seven Democratic senators at a news conference in the Senate side of the Capitol to highlight a bill they are sponsoring that calls for stronger consumer protections for members of the military.

• The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will take sides in the Illinois Democratic primary and will formally endorse Duckworth, possibly as early as Thursday.

• The Sun-Times also has learned that Duckworth will head to Martha’s Vineyard for the DSCC “Majority Trust” weekend, where she will network in the coming days with the best donors to the Democratic Senate political operation.

• And on the fundraising front, Duckworth swamped Zopp in second-quarter fundraising and just about kept even with Kirk.

OPINION

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SENATE DEMS AND DUCKWORTH

Duckworth and Kirk are both retired military officers. Kirk used his military connection to his advantage in his 2010 Senate bid and his earlier House races. The edge is blunted with Duckworth in the contest, as both rivals focus on military and veterans issues.

Duckworth is taking on military consumer issues. Earlier this year, she got legislation curbing the ability of predatory lenders to take advantage of members of the military through the GOP-run House Armed Services Committee.

On Wednesday, Duckworth came over to the Senate side to discuss the military consumer safeguard legislation, joined by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Duckworth was showcased with Durbin and Schumer — the Senate No. 2 and No. 3 among Democratic leaders — and the popular senators Warren and Franken.

Durbin is Duckworth’s political father, and he has already been fundraising for her. I reported earlier that Durbin is endorsing Duckworth; he will do a public announcement at a later date.

“I’m supporting her, very much so,” Franken told me after the news conference.

In the meantime, Kirk’s political team has been highlighting a pending 2009 wrongful termination suit filed against Duckworth, stemming from her tenure as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

When I saw Kirk at the Capitol, I asked him about the Democratic senators’ show of force with Duckworth to highlight the military consumer protection measure.

“They haven’t come to me to ask me about this legislation. This is the first I heard,” Kirk said.

And what, I asked, do you make of the Senate Democrats getting behind Duckworth?

“No comment,” Kirk said.

SENATE FUNDRAISING

The latest fundraising haul covers the period between April 1 and June 30. Though official reports filed with the Federal Election Commission won’t be public until later this month, the campaigns released some details:

• Kirk raised $1.35 million in the second quarter and has $3.2 million cash on hand. Of that, Kirk’s team said $2.1 million can be used for the primary with $1.1 million in the bank for the general.

• Duckworth raised $1.2 million in the second quarter with $2.2 million cash on hand. About $2 million of that can be spent on a primary.

• Zopp, who jumped in the race in May, raised $666,573. She told me of that total, $42,114 was a loan she made to her campaign. Most of the cash is for her primary bid, with $47,594 in general election funds.

CLINTON PLANS JULY FUNDER IN CHICAGO

The invites are out for a July 21 Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Chicago at the home of Raj Fernando, the founder and CEO of Chopper Trading and a major Democratic donor and fundraiser.

This will be Clinton’s third visit to Chicago since she launched her presidential campaign. She was in Chicago on June 23 and had two days of fundraising events on May 19 and 20.

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