Byline: Marni Pyke Daily Herald Staff Writer
First of a two-part series following the candidates in the 6th Congressional District on the campaign trail. Today: Tammy Duckworth. Friday: Peter Roskam.
The headquarters of the Democratic candidate in the most-watched congressional race in the Midwest are inconspicuously tucked in beside a Chinese restaurant and a print shop in a Lombard strip mall.
Inside, a team of idealistic dreamers and political schemers spend 12- to 14-hour days campaigning to send Tammy Duckworth to Washington as the representative for the 6th Congressional District instead of Republican Peter Roskam.
It's a wet, gray Monday morning in September, and phones ring steadily in the lobby, where enthusiastic young volunteers handle the incoming traffic.
In the back room, a council of war is going on.
"I feel the transition into a September level of activity happened in the middle of August," says campaign manager Jon Carson. "We need to keep in high gear."
Sixth District elections were always a cakewalk for iconic U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde. But with Hyde's retirement, national Democrats sensed an opportunity in the GOP stronghold.
They replaced the usual earnest but underachieving Democrat candidates with Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, a wounded Iraq war veteran with star power. Now, Roskam, a state senator from Wheaton, is in the race of his life.
With control of the U.S. House in the balance, the world is watching this contest, and both candidates are hungry.
Raindrops keep falling
Usually Duckworth is in the office by now. But the rookie politician spent the weekend on National Guard duty at Camp Lincoln in Springfield and doesn't start her campaign day until an 11 a.m. event.
The 10 a.m. weekly staff meeting is half strategy session, half revival meeting.
"Well, the first big news is that we had 413 people out working for Tammy Duckworth this weekend," field director David LeBreton says via speaker-phone from the campaign's office in Lombard.
"Woo-hoo!" comes a chorus of workers perched on stools or sprawled on a futon couch that's seen better days.
The meeting covers myriad topics in a compressed timeframe.
- Yard signs -"If people want a yard sign, they need to be walking their precinct," LeBreton says.
- Getting out the vote -"We need to build a machine that will accommodate a volunteer army," Carson says.
- And, an upcoming fundraising concert by Burt Bacharach -"All Burt all the time," finance director Claire Serdiuk says.
Carson, whose short haircut and preppy attire make him look like a closet Republican, keeps the atmosphere loose, but he snaps into football coach mode at the end.
"We are at a level of activity you wouldn't normally see until October but I think everyone is handling it very well," he says.
"One thing that is very telling to me - the entire weekend long with all the volunteers, all 413, I did not get one complaint."
Inside Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale, a group of men in garish attire wait for the weather to clear.
Duckworth is an invited guest of the Wheaton Firefighters Union Local 3706 at the Bad Pants Open, a golf outing that benefits muscular dystrophy research and this year coincides with the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.
Just in time for the parade of golfers wearing their worst pants, Duckworth arrives.
"Do you want to watch?" asks Wheaton firefighter Mike Byas.
"Absolutely - as painful as it may be," she says, beaming.
Duckworth, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, says the Sept. 11 anniversary for her starts off with contemplation.
"I realize I'm one in a long line of people who've done this same job and worn the uniform in slightly different ways, just as you do," she tells the audience. …