U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh was criticized by veterans groups this week after making a dismissive remark about his opponent -- Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth -- in a Politico interview.
The Tea Party favorite faces Duckworth, a Democrat, in one of the most closely-watched congressional races of 2012. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it plans to win back Illinois' 8th District, and redistricting has put Walsh in a much more vulnerable position.
Even before Duckworth won the March 20 Illinois primary, a poll showed both her and her former Democratic opponent polling ahead of Walsh in the new 8th District.
“Tammy is a heroic veteran; Walsh a Tea Party icon who’s so extreme he’s doubling down on his extremism,” DCCC chairman Steve Israel told The Huffington Post last week, adding that Walsh is "badly out of touch" with voters.
While in Iraq in 2004, Duckworth lost both of her legs and part of her arm when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Walsh mentioned his opponent's service in an interview with Politico this week, but seemed less-than-impressed by Duckworth's credentials:
“I have so much respect for what she did in the fact that she sacrificed her body for this country,” said Walsh, simultaneously lowering his voice as he leaned forward before pausing for dramatic effect. “Ehhh. Now let’s move on.”
“What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh,” he continued. “She is nothing more than a handpicked Washington bureaucrat. David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel just picked her up and dropped her into this district.”
VoteVets.org called Walsh's comments an "appalling new low" and demanded that he apologize to Duckworth. The former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs posted the organization's comments on her Facebook page.
"If you think working for America's veterans at the VA both in Washington and Illinois is nothing, if you think working to improve the economic lives of veterans is nothing, then Joe Walsh's record is below nothing," Jon Soltz, Iraq War Veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.org PAC said in a statement. He represents the do-nothing, obstructionist, extreme Tea Party wing of the GOP, not the values that Tammy stood up for."
Walsh has since tried distancing himself from the comments, telling Chicago Magazine's Carol Felsenthal he would have phrased things differently if he were to do the interview again.
“I often catch myself when I’m talking. I meant something other than how it came out," he said. “Because I never served ... I have an unbelievable amount of awe and respect for everybody who wore the uniform.”