Editorial: Tammy Duckworth for US Senate

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Of all the Republicans on the Illinois ballot in the 2022 election cycle, Kathy Salvi, an attorney from Mundelein, surely has the hardest job.

She has to try to unseat Tammy Duckworth, a heroic American who was awarded the Purple Heart after she lost her right leg and much of her left leg during her military service in Iraq in 2004, when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a grenade. And if that piece of Duckworth’s remarkable biography was not daunting enough, she was the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress, and then became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office, following the birth of her second daughter, Maile, in 2018.

In our view, Duckworth, a household name in Illinois, would have been a much stronger 2020 running mate for President Joe Biden than the ineffectual Kamala Harris.

But for Illinoisans, what matters more is Duckworth’s record as the state’s junior senator, following her election in 2016. She has been highly effective in Washington, punching above her weight.

She defended the Americans with Disabilities Act, and, more recently she sponsored the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022, designed to provide line-of-duty death designation to law enforcement and similar officers who die as a result of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other injuries that might not be obvious at the moment. Biden has also called on Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, to help him navigate the delicate situation in Taiwan and she has been adept at doing so.

Salvi, 63, is a moderate Republican whom we endorsed in the seven-way primary. She has six children and three grandchildren and her own story of career and familial achievement in the Chicago area. There is a sharp difference between the candidates on abortion, with Salvi telling us she is anti-abortion whereas Duckworth is pro-abortion rights. When we pressed Salvi for details (Duckworth declined to meet with us in person), she said that the laws on abortion should be left up to the states. For the record, Salvi, unlike many in her party, has clearly said that she believes Biden to be the legitimately elected president of the United States.

When we met with her again, Salvi painted Duckworth merely as a sycophantic mouthpiece for Biden, unlikely to think for herself to serve the citizens of Illinois. Given her opponent, it certainly is in Salvi’s political interests to paint the election as a “referendum on the Biden agenda,” and, for some Republican voters, Duckworth’s record and reputation won’t be enough to cancel out the benefits of the Republicans taking over the Senate. If that is your point of view when it comes to this federal office, your vote is clear.

With that goal in mind, Salvi emphasized with us how Illinois has historically been represented in the Senate by both Republicans and Democrats, saying that bipartisan representation serves the state best. She also made much of a frequent Republican talking point in this election cycle: the need for parents to have a say in their children’s education and to know what is transpiring in the classroom. We agree that is far preferable for kids and teachers to work together, and that hiding content from parents usually solves nothing in the long-term.

We also appreciated how much Salvi stated her intention to be a unifier willing to work across the aisle. Should she be elected, she would not inhabit the far-right wing of the Republican Party which is, in an election with so many candidates running at the extremes, a relief.

But Salvi has never held any elected office (her husband Al Salvi served in the Illinois House for four years). And she did not answer all of our questions in the detail we had hoped. She prefers talking in anecdote and generalities to hard data and policy-driven clarity. She stuck mostly to those familiar party talking points, and she found it hard to mount a sustained and specific critique of Duckworth’s failings, beyond connecting her to Biden at every turn.

Illinois would, we think, lose some crucial clout with Salvi, especially in the near term and, of course, would no longer enjoy Duckworth’s expertise and focus on veterans affairs and her attention to American with disabilities, for whom she has been a great champion.

It is hard to imagine Salvi effectively marshaling resources for her home state, even though she likely would be able to work reasonably well with the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin. Duckworth, by contrast, is on the Committee on Environment and Public Works; she commands great respect on Capitol Hill and those benefits flow back to Illinois.

Frankly put, we don’t really know what Salvi would do in Washington because she did not clearly tell us. We commend Salvi’s appetite for public service. But to say that there is gulf between these two women in terms of experience and expertise does not do the contrast justice.

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