- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Meeting for the first time this election season, the three Illinois Democrats vying for U.S. Senate worked to distinguish themselves from each other and their GOP rivals Monday, sharing stories of difficult childhoods, business backgrounds and time in the trenches of struggling Chicago neighborhoods.

During a meeting before the Chicago Tribune editorial board, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, state Sen. Napoleon Harris and former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp also touched on how they’d reduce the national debt and where they differ from President Barack Obama.

The winner of the March 15 primary will likely face Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s seeking his second term and is considered a heavy favorite to win a GOP primary against businessman James Marter. Democrats nationally see Kirk as one of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents, and Illinois as key to their strategy to pick up seats and possibly win back control of the Senate.

___

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

The candidates introduced themselves to voters, most of whom have heard little about the so-far low-key race.

Duckworth, a former Army pilot whose helicopter was shot down in Iraq, acknowledged she’s best known for her military background. She said what’s made her want to fight for working families is her own childhood, noting she had to work part-time after school to help pay the rent on her family’s studio apartment after her father lost his job.

Harris said growing up as an African-American male on Chicago’s South Side was “tough,” but that his mother’s emphasis on education led him to Northwestern University and a career in the NFL. He now owns a chain of suburban pizza restaurants.

Zopp touted the breadth of her experience, having served as a state and federal prosecutor and spending 10 years as an executive in Fortune 200 companies before taking over the Urban League of Chicago. She also sat on the Chicago Board of Education and a panel that recommended Illinois abolish the death penalty.

___

NATIONAL DEBT

Asked how they would address the U.S.’s massive debt, all three candidates said they wouldn’t cut benefits for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Harris, of Harvey, said the answer is “no more expensive wars” and getting corporations and wealthy people to pay more taxes.

Zopp, of Chicago, called for closing corporate tax loopholes and ending the practice known as inversions, when U.S. companies merge with overseas corporations to lower their tax bill.

Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, pointed to what she called waste in the Defense Department, such as billions spent on the F-35 fighter jet program. She also said she’d look at changing the income level at which Social Security taxes are capped, so people who earn higher wages pay a larger percentage than they currently do.

___

POLICING

Zopp and Harris, who are African-American, exchanged jabs over who’s done more to address criminal justice issues.

Zopp accused Harris and Duckworth of being “largely silent” regarding recent shootings of black residents by Chicago police and a federal civil rights investigation into the police department, noting she’s worked on criminal justice issues for years.

Harris objected, saying he’s been “in the community talking to people who are directly impacted” and that he hasn’t seen Zopp there.

“You’re running in the wrong race,” Harris said, saying she should be running for Cook County State’s Attorney.

Zopp then ripped Harris as having “limited experience and leadership.” Harris’ reply: “You’ve never been elected.”

“What I have done is gotten things done,” Zopp said.

___

OBAMA DIFFERENCES

Zopp and Harris both mentioned immigration when asked to name an issue where they disagree with Obama.

Zopp blasted recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids against people seeking asylum from Central America, saying the U.S. has “become hyper-deporters.”

Harris also criticized the administration for separating immigrant families, saying the U.S. needs to invest more in border control and vet people better when they enter the country.

Duckworth said she opposed Obama spending millions on arming of Syrian rebels, which she said was money “wasted.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide