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Walsh, Duckworth square off in raucous Super Bowl of debates

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh looks offstage an Eighth Congressional District debate with Tammy Duckworth Democratic challenger as they take part

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, looks offstage at an Eighth Congressional District debate with Tammy Duckworth, Democratic challenger as they take part in their third of five debates at the Meadows Club, Rolling Meadows, Illinois, October 9, 2012. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:24AM

If politics is sport, then Illinois’ Super Bowl of political debates went down in Rolling Meadows Tuesday night, replete with two highly-charged candidates and hundreds of whistling, booing and screaming fans.

Democratic war veteran Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party Republican and cable TV fixture, alternately talked over one another in the verbal sparring match. Walsh even offered to donate $2,500 to his opponent’s campaign in a bet during the verbal battle over the 8th Congressional District seat that Walsh now holds.

At another point, Walsh hoisted a photo taken of Duckworth shopping for a dress. He was explaining a comment he made about Duckworth spending her time at the Democratic National Convention trying to pick out what to wear.

Both Walsh and Duckworth wasted no time launching salvos at one another, each attempting to put the other on the defensive before an estimated 1,000 people packed into the Meadows Club ball room.

“I never said she wasn’t a hero,” Walsh said of Duckworth, who lost both her legs while piloting a helicopter in Iraq. That caused a major groan to wash over the auditorium.

“Yes you did!” someone shouted.

Walsh was responding to a question about whether he was “too extreme.”

Walsh won a chorus of groans later when he tried to defend another comment he made over the summer. He was explaining his remark about Duckworth picking out an outfit to wear at the convention when he said she should have been back in the district talking to people.

It was at that point that Walsh held up the photo he said showed Duckworth shopping for a dress.

He couldn’t even finish his remark. The crowd drowned him out in disapproval.

“What a dork!” said one man, who was wearing an anti-Walsh sticker.

Duckworth acknowledged that she sometimes picks out the clothes she's going to wear. "But you know, for most of my adult life, I've worn one color: it's called camouflage."

The crowded room became increasingly raucous as the candidates traded barbs. At one point, moderator Paul Green told the audience to calm down or else he’d have to “pass out the togas.”

Walsh used his opening statements to predict that Duckworth would only give “canned … polled-tested” answers to questions.

Duckworth said the north and northwest suburban congressional district didn’t want to be “yelled at any more,” and accused Walsh of voting against his electorate.

“He’s not there to serve the district, he’s there to serve the Tea Party,” she said.

The highly-charged crossfire came just weeks before the Nov. 6 election with money pouring into the district. That includes $1.7 million to Walsh from the SuperPAC Now or Never.

In a media availability, Duckworth said SuperPACs should be banned from politics. Walsh though said the money was necessary as be battled against a district redrawn by high-powered Democrats.

“God bless them,” he said of the SuperPACs. “I’m running against the White House.”

Throughout the two-hour debate, broadcast on WIND-AM (560) and WCPT-AM (820), Duckworth and Walsh showed how much they differed on key issues.

Though it’s Walsh who has an attack-dog reputation, Duckworth pulled no punches.

When Walsh complained that all politicians wanted to do was get re-elected, Duckworth interjected.

“The only person here who’s trying to get re-elected is Mr. Walsh,” she said to applause.

In one exchange, Duckworth and Walsh talked about their sit-down discussions about health care with the owners of Chicago Prime Steak House in Schaumburg. Walsh used it as an example of people who needed “Obamacare” repealed.

Duckworth said she heard a very different story from them, then suggested maybe Walsh was too busy talking to understand what they were really saying.

That got Walsh going.

“I have a wager for Ms. Duckworth. Why don’t you and I sit down together with the owners’ of Chicago’s Prime Steakhouse,” Walsh said. If it turned out that Walsh’s version of the story was true: “I will contribute $2,500 to your campaign.”

Duckworth replied: “I’m not going to grandstand with you, Joe.”

“This is a lot better than the presidential debate,” said Bob Johnson, of Buffalo Grove. “Hearing Tammy and Joe Walsh, whether you like them or not, at least it’s coming from their heart.”

Still, Johnson said neither candidate particularly appealed to him.

“Quite realistically, I’m frustrated with all the candidates,” he said. “Does anybody support the American worker?”

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