WILL DUCK­WORTH GET THE CALL?

Se­na­tor on Bi­den’s short list as Demo­crat pre­pares to an­nounce run­ning mate

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - LYNN SWEET

Sen. Tammy Duck­worth is on the short list to be Joe Bi­den’s run­ning mate, so I asked her when she first met the ex-vice pres­i­dent.

“I prob­a­bly met Joe Bi­den right af­ter I met you, Lynn, the State of the Union night,” said Duck­worth.

On that evening — Feb. 2, 2005 — she was in the Capi­tol for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s speech as the guest of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He wanted to give his tick­ets for the ad­dress to Illi­nois vets re­cov­er­ing from war wounds at the old Wal­ter Reed mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal.

Duck­worth im­pressed Durbin as the Illi­nois Army Na­tional Guard of­fi­cer talked to a re­porter about the Iraq War, where, just weeks ear­lier she lost both legs and the use of an arm when her he­li­copter was shot down on Nov. 12, 2004.

She told me that af­ter that, Durbin took her to a pre-speech gath­er­ing of Demo­cratic sen­a­tors with Bi­den, then the vet­eran Delaware se­na­tor, and fresh­man Barack Obama, who was just wrap­ping up his first month as the ju­nior se­na­tor from Illi­nois.

Durbin re­cruited Duck­worth to run for a House seat from the Chicago sub­urbs in 2006. She lost the race but never Durbin’s role as a ca­reer men­tor.

To make a long story short: Duck­worth was sworn into the Se­nate on Jan. 3, 2017, by thenPres­i­dent Obama’s vice pres­i­dent, Joe Bi­den.

For months now, Duck­worth, from Hoff­man Es­tates, has been go­ing through in­tense vet­ting by Bi­den’s team.

At the same time, as spec­u­la­tion grows about her VP prospects, Duck­worth has been rais­ing her pro­file by ac­cept­ing more book­ings on shows and pod­casts. Part of that is re­lated to the COVID-19 pan­demic. Do­ing hits from a din­ing room ta­ble takes far less time than go­ing to a stu­dio, even if one of her daugh­ters climbs into the pic­ture.

Duck­worth, 52, is the first se­na­tor to give birth while in of­fice. She is home school­ing her el­dest dur­ing the coron­avirus shut­down, jug­gling that with her Se­nate du­ties and vet­ting chores. Maile was born on April 9, 2018; Abi­gail on Nov. 18, 2014. Hus­band Bryan Bowls­bey works for an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy firm.

Bi­den, near­ing a de­ci­sion, is fo­cus­ing the most on sev­eral other women, all African Amer­i­can, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral sources and news re­ports.

A long shot on the short list, Duck­worth re­mains a con­tender.

She shares with Bi­den a non-priv­i­leged, non-elite up­bring­ing and a hard­scrab­ble life. As a youth, her fam­ily was once on food stamps. She is an ev­ery­woman who won sup­port from cross­over Trump vot­ers in her 2016 Se­nate race.

She “has one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary sto­ries in pol­i­tics,” said long­time po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and Obama ad­viser David Ax­el­rod. “Ob­vi­ously it’s a heroic story, but it’s also an in­cred­i­ble story of re­silience and per­se­ver­ance, of pa­tri­o­tism and about em­pa­thy. It’s the stuff of movies, it’s the stuff of nov­els, her life story, and there are not too many peo­ple like that around.” Duck­worth has an ad­van­tage in that she ac­tu­ally has known Bi­den and his wife, Jill, for years. The re­la­tion­ship re­volved around their mu­tual in­ter­ests in vet­er­ans af­fairs. Shortly af­ter Duck­worth’s 2006 elec­tion loss, then-Gov. Rod Blago­je­vich, look­ing to clean up his own al­ready tar­nished im­age with a blue chip ap­point­ment, tapped her to be di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. In 2008, Duck­worth in­tro­duced Bi­den’s late son, Beau — a mem­ber of the Delaware Na­tional Guard — at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion. She be­came an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, where she crossed paths with

Bi­den on var­i­ous vet­er­ans is­sues.

Duck­worth got to know Jill Bi­den when they tack­led home­less vet is­sues at the VA. Later, af­ter Duck­worth, on her se­cond try, won a sub­ur­ban Chicago House seat in 2012, they suc­cess­fully worked on leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect vets from preda­tory lend­ing prac­tices.

Jill Norm­ing­ton, Duck­worth’s poll­ster for 15 years, told me her re­search shows that vot­ers — even those who on the sur­face don’t have any­thing in com­mon with Duck­worth — “be­lieve her when she talks. They find her to be warm and they con­clude that she will make choices that end up putting work­ing peo­ple first.

“. . . For peo­ple who know her a lit­tle bit, or peo­ple who don’t know her at all, she al­ways ends up mak­ing a good first im­pres­sion.”

As Bi­den closes in on a pick, Duck­worth has peo­ple with deep con­nec­tions into the Bi­den world root­ing for her: in ad­di­tion to some vet­er­ans groups, Durbin, Gov. J.B. Pritzker plus Bill Brandt and John Atkin­son, ma­jor donors and fundrais­ers for Duck­worth and Bi­den.

Pritzker, in Yahoo News’ “Skull­dug­gery”

pod­cast, said he pro­moted Duck­worth in a con­ver­sa­tion with Bi­den, tout­ing her as a war hero who can con­front Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Pritzker po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Quentin Fulks told me that con­ver­sa­tion took place July 7, two days be­fore a vir­tual fundraiser Pritzker and Obama were co-host­ing for Bi­den.

Brandt, with Duck­worth since her first race in 2006 — a for­mer fi­nance chair now an ad­viser and friend — said, “I have cer­tainly talked her up and I have helped with the Bi­den campaign from the stand­point of Tammy’s in­ter­ests.”

Atkin­son, cur­rent chair of Duck­worth’s fi­nance com­mit­tee, said Bi­den “knows Tammy very well, and I’m con­fi­dent he sees her as ready on day one.” She also is “kryp­tonite to Trump,” in a “unique po­si­tion” to call him out.

Cu­ri­ously, Trump has re­frained, so far, from giv­ing Duck­worth an in­sult­ing nick­name. Some­one fa­mil­iar with the vet­ting process said while Duck­worth checks many boxes, her birth in Thai­land makes some skit­tish about the po­ten­tial of Trump try­ing to whip up his base with a ground­less birtherism de­bate.

Duck­worth’s fa­ther, who is white, was in Thai­land on a non-mil­i­tary U.S. gov­ern­ment job when she was born. Her mother is Thai of Chi­nese de­scent.

I asked Duck­worth who she was clos­est to in the Se­nate, and her an­swer helps pin­point her on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

“There’s this mod­er­ate Dems ta­ble” at the Demo­cratic Se­nate lunches, she said, and she sits mostly with Sher­rod Brown of Ohio; Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota; Tammy Bald­win of Wis­con­sin; and Jeanne Sha­heen of New Hamp­shire.

Last week, Duck­worth was named a “per­ma­nent co-chair” of the up­com­ing Demo­cratic vir­tual pres­i­den­tial con­ven­tion, with those du­ties likely mainly sym­bolic.

She doesn’t of­fer much when asked about her vet­ting sta­tus and meet­ings with Bi­den, of which she has had at least one.

Said Duck­worth, “I’m just go­ing to keep do­ing my job, Lynn, and I’ll let the process move along on its own sched­ule, what­ever sched­ule they may have.”

“I’M JUST GO­ING TO KEEP DO­ING MY JOB, LYNN, AND I’LL LET THE PROCESS MOVE ALONG ON ITS OWN SCHED­ULE, WHAT­EVER SCHED­ULE (BI­DEN’S CAMPAIGN) THEY MAY HAVE.” SEN. TAMMY DUCK­WORTH

SUN-TIMES FILE

Sen. Tammy Duck­worth

FOR THE SUN-TIMES; AN­DREW HARNIK/AP (BI­DEN)

Sen. Tammy Duck­worth, D-Ill., is in the run­ning to be pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den’s (inset be­low) vice pres­i­den­tial pick.

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