By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 03/28/06 12:00 AM EST
Christine Cegelis will not endorse Tammy Duckworth, the winner in Illinois’s 6th Congressional District Democratic primary, because she has reservations about Duckworth’s positions on universal healthcare and free trade, a source close to Cegelis’s campaign said.
Duckworth, a wounded veteran of the Iraq war, defeated Cegelis by 3 percentage points in last week’s hotly contested primary. Cegelis, a liberal Democrat, won 44 percent of the vote against Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in 2004.
On Saturday, Illinois Democrats held a unity breakfast attended by Duckworth, party officials and Cegelis supporters who vowed to help Duckworth. Cegelis did not attend.
Duckworth had favored universal health insurance but changed her tune, advocating a more incremental approach, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source asserted that Cegelis believes Duckworth has backed away from her opposition to the Central America Free Trade Agreement that the House and Senate passed last year. Despite that perception, Duckworth won the Illinois AFL-CIO endorsement.
Duckworth spokesman Billy Weinberg said that instead of focusing on the differences between Duckworth and Cegelis, voters should consider the differences between her and her GOP challenger, state Sen. Peter Roskam (Ill.).
“I would urge them to consider if that’s in the best interest of the goals we share,” Weinberg said, referring to the focus thus far on the differences between the two Democratic primary candidates.
Cegelis’s refusal has irritated national Democrats who said she had promised local officials that she would endorse Duckworth. The national party officials worry that her unwillingness to support Duckworth’s bid could dampen enthusiasm among some Democratic activists in November.
Democrats had hoped to avoid this scenario as early as last year. Top party officials studied the likelihood of trying to persuade Cegelis to drop out of the race but concluded she would not do so if asked, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) official said.
The heated primary reflected the tension between activist voters who favor a passionate, outspoken candidate and voters who support a candidate they view as having the best chance to win in a general election.
In the Republican-leaning, suburban Chicago district where the Democratic Party has had no real organization in recent years, Cegelis had built support from a coalition of activists and one-issue voters. She also earned the endorsement of Democracy For America, a prominent grassroots movement run by Howard Dean’s brother after Dean’s failed presidential campaign. Dean is now the chairman of DNC.
“There’s no respect now for grassroots support,” the source close to Cegelis’s campaign said, adding that Dean was the only national Democratic leader to call her after the race ended.
In the absence of a strong local party, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), handpicked Duckworth as the establishment choice. Illinois’s U.S. senators, Democrats Barack Obama and Dick Durbin, as well as Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), aided Duckworth’s campaign by recording phone calls to voters, endorsing her in direct mailings and raising money.
Illinois Democrats say that they are not worried about Cegelis’s decision not to endorse Duckworth because most Democrats, even if upset by the outcome, will choose Duckworth over Roskam.
Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, told The Hill, “We’ve seen plenty of reaction in the past when Washington Democrats involved themselves in a race. I’m seeing a different reaction here. It’s not reversed itself into a Kumbaya moment.”
“I don’t sense a recrimination mode. The tenor of rhetoric from the DCCC is one of ‘well, that’s politics,’” he added.
A Democratic Party strategist said, “Maybe [Cegelis] can take some people with her, but with or without her this is going to be a hell of race. We hope that she is part of it.”