If Tammy Duckworth makes it through her party's primary election -- and she should -- she still will have much to prove regarding how she would represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate for the next six years. Duckworth, a wounded veteran of the Iraq War before she went into politics, started this race as the Democratic Party leadership's anointed rising star, and she has managed her primary campaign with somewhat aloof assurance, resting more on the good reputation she has earned in two terms in Congress than on how she will transform her House experience into success in the Senate.
She has an excellent story to tell. Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, has distinguished herself in Congress as intelligent, hardworking and independent. Whether the topic is the Affordable Care Act, transportation planning, immigration, Mideast policy, deficit reduction or, particularly, issues involving the military and veterans, Duckworth speaks confidently and with authority born of critical study and personal experience.
Her long list of accomplishments for 2015 alone shows a congresswoman who has learned her way around Washington, yet stayed true to her suburban constituency. Her proposal to require consistency in camouflage styles among all branches of the Armed Forces will save more than $4 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, among many other achievements, she helped produce grants that will provide just under $1 million for the Elgin Family Care Center and more than $4.6 million for the Gas Technology Institute in Des Plaines to develop energy innovations, while co-sponsoring the Silent Skies Act intended to help reduce noise around O'Hare Airport.
Are actions like these sufficient to qualify her for the broader statewide demands of the U.S. Senate? They are a start, to be sure. And they're an important part of what distinguishes Duckworth from her very competent and closest competitor Andrea Zopp, of Chicago. Zopp, too, boasts an impressive record of accomplishment. A former CEO and president of the Chicago Urban League with prior experience as a federal prosecutor, an assistant state's attorney for Cook County and an executive with Sears and Exelon, she speaks with toughness and authority on topics ranging from criminal justice reform to gun control and Pell grant funding. She has done her homework, and she's prepared to use what she knows.
The third Democrat in this race, state Sen. Napoleon Harris, of Chicago, has a useful background in state government, and he can speak knowledgeably, if not with authority equal to that of the other candidates, about the major issues facing the federal government. But he does not have the experience or leadership foundation to make him competitive with Zopp and Duckworth, both of whom would represent legitimate alternatives to Kirk in a general election campaign.
But it's Duckworth who separates herself through her Washington experience, her strong immersion in the major issues facing the country, her demonstrated work ethic and an appealing independent streak. She is endorsed.
Even so, it remains for her to show she has the stature to translate her congressional success into distinguished service in the upper chamber. Should she survive the primary, we look forward to seeing that question addressed.