Remarks made by incumbent Republican congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois have been a source of contention. VoteVets.org, which describes itself as a political action committee dedicated to assisting veterans of wars in the Mideast, called for Rep. Walsh’s resignation on July 5 for his remarks about Democrat rival Tammy Duckworth. A former U.S. Army pilot, Duckworth is a combat veteran and double-amputee who lost the lower part of her legs in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the Blackhawk helicopter she was flying during the Iraq war.
Illinois' 8th congressional district was recently redrawn and leans towards the Democratic party. Walsh was elected with significant support from Tea Party activists.
Freshman Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois incensed his critics when he told listeners at a town hall meeting on July 1 that he was "running against a woman who -- I mean, my God, that's all she talks about." Of Duckworth, he added, "Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, that's the last thing in the world they talk about." Walsh continued with his criticisms on July 3 when he told CNN "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."
Speaking on MSNBC on July 4, Jon Soltz - the chairman of VoteVets and an Iraq War veteran – said of Walsh "He needs to just resign and stop embarrassing his constituents.” Soltz added, "The guy has no idea what it means to be in the military, what it means to serve." Soltz said that Duckworth is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard. "The fact is she has no legs, and it's obviously very noticeable, and that's a huge part of who she is," Soltz said.
Duckworth served as assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Obama administration. Her campaign released a statement that Rep. Walsh's comments "insult those who sacrificed to make this country free." Duckworth said this week that her wounds "do inform my discussions with the constituents when I talk about health care," particularly in the debate over Obama's landmark health care reforms that are opposed by most Republicans.
In 2006, Duckworth lost her bid for a congressional seat by about 2.5 percent of the vote in a suburban Chicago district. Duckworth says she and other veterans should talk more about their military records, not less, and said Walsh, is "trying to insinuate that you're not a hero if you talk about your service." "At a time when we have so many veterans coming home, I hope that the veterans of this generation talk about their war experiences more than the veterans of the Vietnam generation like Senator (John) McCain," Duckworth said in a CNN interview on July 6. "They need to talk about the leadership skills they learned in the military that will make them better employees. They need to talk about the fact they were able to accomplish really tough missions under really extreme conditions. … We also need to make sure that our veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress talk about their wartime experiences and reach out for help."
On the board of VoteVets.org is retired general Wesley K. Clark, who failed in his bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Another advisor to the group is Senator Bob Kerry, who also once ran for the presidency as a Democrat. In June 2011, the VoteVets.org referred to itself as the “largest progressive group of veterans in America.” While the group refers to itself as non-partisan, it has sponsored political ads targeting largely Republican politicians as part of its push to end dependence on petroleum.