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Sen. Tammy Duckworth cruises to a second term over Republican challenger Kathy Salvi

WBEZ_Duckworth Pritzker
Brian Rich / Chicago Sun-Times
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WBEZ
Gov. JB Pritzker greets Senator Tammy Duckworth at Manny’s Deli on Election Day. Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Illinois’ first Asian American senator now becomes its first woman reelected to a Senate seat.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Tuesday coasted to a second term, fending off a challenge from Republican challenger Kathy Salvi to extend her historic Senate career another six years.

A spokesperson for Salvi’s campaign said the challenger had called to concede less than an hour after the polls closed. Duckworth declared victory shortly before 8 p.m.

The Associated Press called the race even earlier, but early returns were scarce. With less than 6% of precincts reporting, Duckworth was leading with about 60% of the vote compared to 38% for Salvi and 1% for Libertarian candidate Bill Redpath.

The cheers were subdued as the results rolled across television screens at Duckworth’s election night party at the Adler Planetarium, reflecting the perception that there was little question Duckworth would land her re-election bid.

Only a few dozen people were milling around an open bar when AP’s surprisingly swift call was first announced. Guests — including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — were treated to stuffed toy ducks with camouflage shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Tammy Strong.”

With the projected victory, Illinois’ first Asian American senator is now poised to become its first woman re-elected to a Senate seat. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun made history as the state’s first woman senator in 1993 but was ousted after one term.

And that’s only the latest trail blazed by Duckworth in her congressional career, which started with two terms in a northwest suburban U.S. House district before she soundly beat Republican ex-Sen. Mark Kirk for the statewide post in 2016.

Duckworth, a 54-year-old Army National Guard veteran who lost her legs in Iraq in 2004, is the first female double amputee ever to serve in the Senate, the first member born in Thailand and the first to give birth while in office, as she did in 2018.

Her profile was raised even higher in 2020 when she was shortlisted as a potential running mate for President Joe Biden.

WBEZ_Kathy Salvi
Kamil Krzaczynski for the Chicago Sun-Times
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WBEZ
Illinois Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Salvi cast her ballot at Wauconda Township Community Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Wauconda, Ill.

Salvi — a personal injury attorney from Mundelein who finished second in a 2006 GOP congressional primary bid — spent much of her time on the campaign trail painting Duckworth as a “rubber stamp” for Biden and an economic agenda that the challenger claims has fueled inflation.

That messaging never gained Salvi much traction with voters, according to polls that showed the Hoffman Estates resident Duckworth with a double-digit lead in the weeks leading up to the election.

Nor did it inspire much confidence among GOP donors, who mostly kept their cash out of a contest that was never in doubt for Duckworth. Salvi’s bid was largely self-financed, and she entered the home stretch of the race with about $204,000 in her political war chest —a tiny fraction of the $7.6 million the sitting senator had on hand to clinch her re-election.

Salvi’s campaign was also hamstrung on the question of abortion rights, which Duckworth’s campaign made the focal point of the race following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision.

In a state where slightly more than half of registered voters support abortion rights in most or all cases — that’s according to a Sun-Times/WBEZ poll — Salvi said she supports the procedure only in cases of rape, incest or pregnancies that risk the life of the mother. Salvi, 63, also repeatedly ducked the question of whether she’d support a bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks.

Duckworth has said she’d vote to codify abortion rights into federal law through 24 weeks from the point of viability.

The outcome means that both of Illinois’ sitting U.S. senators can now claim to have soundly beaten a Salvi. Duckworth’s victory comes more than a quarter of a century after the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, won his seat in 1996 by trouncing Kathy Salvi’s husband, Al, by more than 15 percentage points.

Durbin will be 81 by the time his seat is next on the ballot in 2026. The five-term Democrat has not announced his future plans.

Mitchell Armentrout is a Sun-Times staff reporter. Michelle Meyer is a freelance reporter.

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