Things got feisty Tuesday night as two candidates running for Congress in the northwest suburbs 8th District held a raucous debate about the economy, health care and partisanship before a cheering, jeering, and booing live audience.
The race between first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party idol, and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, has become one of the most closely watched and heated races in the country, as both parties jockey for control of the House of Representatives.
Walsh set the tone for the night in his opening statement, calling Duckworth a “failed bureaucrat” who abused her time at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs to further political interests.
Duckworth, in turn, called Walsh a “poster child for the Tea Party” who typifies partisan gridlock in Washington.
“If there’s a problem in Washington, you are the status quo, Congressman. You’ve been there for two years. You’ve done nothing about it, other than to yell at people,” Duckworth said to cheers from supporters.
Even the moderator of the debate, broadcast on WIND-AM (560) and WCPT-AM, was frequently cut off by boos and shouts from the audience – and, sometimes, by Walsh and Duckworth themselves.
The two candidates, who faced each other first in 2010, were also far apart on issues.
True to his Tea Party roots, Walsh stayed on his small-government message about cutting the budget and trimming the deficit. He said he wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, overhaul Medicaid and Medicare and halt U.S. foreign aid to all countries except Israel.
“If we don’t make some big, grown-up decisions really quickly, our kids and our grandkids are going to live a life of indentured servitude,” Walsh said.
Duckworth, meanwhile, said budget cutting is important, but vowed to keep Medicare and Social Security intact.
One of the stranger moments of the night came when both candidates recalled talking to the owner of the Chicago Prime Steakhouse, in Schaumburg, about how President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul would affect his restaurant business. Walsh maintained the owner wanted the law repealed, while Duckworth suggested that wasn’t true, based on her own conversation with him.
“Come on, Tammy,” Walsh said. “Let’s ask ‘em, up or down, what they’d like to do with Obamacare, and if they don’t tell you and I that they’d love to see Obamacare repealed, I will contribute $2,500 to your campaign,” he said as his supporters in the audience cheered.
Duckworth declined the wager.
In an interview with WBEZ, Chicago Prime Steakhouse owner Andy-John Kalkounos acknowledged having spoken with both candidates but did not say whom he was supporting in the race.
He added that he thought the health care law will “negatively impact” his business, but said he hadn’t yet done enough research to take a public stance on it.
“I’m not looking to be Joe the Plumber here,” Kalkounos said. “Who cares what I think?”