Poll: Duckworth opens bigger lead

CHICAGO – Illinois Democratic congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth has opened a lead over freshman Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, an edge fueled by a huge advantage among female voters as women’s issues have taken center stage, a new Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows.

Duckworth had the backing of 50 percent to 40 percent for Walsh. An additional 9 percent were undecided.

, which is significant this close to the Nov. 6 balloting, particularly for a highly visible contest that has been combative for months.

The poll results, however, indicate difficulties for Walsh in trying to rally and earn a second term in Washington. Walsh is not viewed favorably. The 8th Congressional District takes a dim view of Republicans in Congress. And independent voters are breaking for Duckworth.

Independents are a key swing bloc of voters who often decide elections, and the poll found they make up more than a third of people casting ballots in the new district, which takes in northwest suburban Cook and eastern DuPage counties. Duckworth, a disabled Iraq War veteran making her second try for Congress, holds a 48 percent to 37 percent advantage over Walsh among independent voters.

Then there’s that gender gap. Among women, Duckworth scored 54 percent support to Walsh’s 34 percent. At the same time, the bravado Walsh often displays in decrying political correctness hasn’t earned him any advantage among men. While the Republican has a 46 percent to 45 percent advantage over Duckworth among male voters, it is statistically insignificant.

Another obstacle for Walsh is widespread discontent with federal lawmakers, particularly Republicans. Only 12 percent of the district’s voters approve of the job Congress is doing; 77 percent disapprove. Moreover, 69 percent of the district’s voters disapprove of how Republicans in Congress are handling their jobs. When asked whether Republicans or Democrats in Washington, including President Barack Obama, were to blame for gridlock, 41 percent cited the GOP compared with 26 percent who cited Democrats.

The survey of 600 likely 8th District voters was conducted Saturday through Wednesday and has an error margin of 4 percentage points.

Walsh had largely been counted out two years ago when he received no national Republican support, but he rode tea party backing to narrowly edge then-Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean by 290 votes. This year, however, Walsh is running in a district Democrats drew to maximize congressional wins at the expense of Republican gains in 2010.

The Tribune poll was conducted after two major events in the expensive and heated campaign that could have affected the attitudes of female voters as the election nears: a controversy about Walsh’s statements on abortion and Duckworth’s TV attack ads centering on Walsh’s now-settled child support case.

Last week, Walsh was explaining his opposition to abortion with no exceptions when he said that because of advances in medicine and technology, the procedure was “absolutely” not necessary to save a mother’s life if it was in medical danger.

The congressman later backtracked slightly and said such instances were “extremely rare,” but his comments drew criticism, including from several medical experts.

Duckworth has continued to make the controversy a major part of the closing days of her campaign. On Thursday she campaigned with Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier, who said she had two medically necessary, lifesaving abortions about 20 years ago when doctors could not save the fetus.

“If we prevent abortions from taking place, that would mean that women who miscarry in this county would have to carry those fetuses until they somehow expelled,” said Speier, 62, who has two grown children. “It’s a profound experience to know that you had life in your uterus and now it is dead.”

Duckworth compared Walsh to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who said this week that a pregnancy after rape is “something that God intended to happen,” and Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican Senate candidate who said this summer that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy.

“Who would ever believe that a female body would try to shut down a pregnancy in the case of rape? Or in the case of Mr. Walsh, that an abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother?” Duckworth said.

Walsh said that Speier’s case is “tragic and sad, and my thoughts go out to her” while also seeking to refocus the discussion on Duckworth’s TV ad on child support.

“Does Ms. Duckworth have nothing else to run on except attacking my family and trying to mislead voters on my position on supporting the life of the mother and the child? It seems like Ms. Duckworth hits a new low every week,” the congressman said in an email.

Duckworth’s ad and accompanying mail pieces characterize Walsh as a “deadbeat,” failing to mention that the dispute over $117,000 in back child support was settled in April. At a Thursday night town hall meeting in Schaumburg, Walsh contended that Duckworth was trying to “distract” voters, which he called a “desperate” move.

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©2012 Chicago Tribune

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