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Walsh says opponent talks too much about military service

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Posted at 9:58 PM, Jul 04, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-04 22:32:14-04

(CNN) — Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois on Wednesday stood by earlier comments questioning his congressional opponent, an Iraq war veteran and double-amputee, for speaking too much about her military service.

“She is a hero, and that demands our respect, but it doesn’t demand our vote. All she does, guys, is talk about her service,” Walsh said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

He contended that his rival, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, rarely makes campaign appearances, but when she does hit the trail, she primarily focuses on her background fighting overseas.

A Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq, Duckworth lost both legs and the use of one arm when her crew was shot down in 2004. She was later awarded the Purple Heart and continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.

In his original remarks on Sunday, Walsh lauded Sen. John McCain’s modesty in talking about his well-known background as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Walsh said McCain’s 2008 Republican presidential advisers repeatedly pushed the senator to talk more about his story, but he was strongly reluctant to make that a focus of his campaign.

“That’s what’s so noble about our heroes. Now I’m running against a woman who, my God, that’s all she talks about,” Walsh said. “Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we’re so indebted and in awe of what they’ve done.”

His comments soon generated buzz online, prompting several groups, including VoteVets.org and Emily’s List, an organization dedicated to helping Democratic women get elected to office, to condemn the congressman’s remarks.

Walsh, elected in 2010 with wide support from the tea party, reiterated Wednesday that he believes Duckworth is a hero but she gives voters a narrow window into her positions on the issues.

“I continue to salute her service, but if that’s all she runs on, voters are going to find that offensive,” he said.

He called into question the very notion that she would discuss her military background, saying “veterans don’t talk about their service” and choose to be “private about it.”

When pressed by Blitzer, who said a lot of veterans are proud to discuss their background, Walsh brought up McCain again as an example of one who tends to be more reserved.

“They don’t throw it in your face,” he said. “They at least can move beyond that and tell you why they want to be a congressman or woman.”

Duckworth’s campaign responded to his original comments on Tuesday, calling the comments an “insult.”

“This week we celebrate our country’s founding and we are grateful for the courage and service of all of our military men and women throughout our nation’s history. Congressman Walsh’s comments insult those who sacrificed to make this country free. Tammy is proud of her over twenty years of service with the Army and her family’s legacy of fighting for this country. We can’t recognize our servicemen and women enough and ask that we keep them in our thoughts during this holiday week,” campaign manager Kaitlin Fahey said Tuesday in a statement.

Duckworth, herself, said during a Tuesday interview with MSNBC that Walsh was using the attack for his own political gain and called him an “extremist loudmouth for the tea party.”

This election year marks her second run for Congress. The Iraq war veteran made an unsuccessful House bid in 2006, prior to being tapped by President Barack Obama in 2009 to become the assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The two candidates are fighting for a seat representing the new 8th Congressional District located outside of Chicago and created by the state’s recent redistricting process.