Iraq Vets Hunting for Votes
Van Taylor is well acquainted with his district's best known voter: President George W. Bush. When Taylor, now 34, was growing up in Midland, Texas, Bush was a family friend. He pinned on Taylor's Eagle Scout insignia and dropped off his twin daughters to play with Taylor's sister. The President and First Lady remain friends today, which should help at the polls. "They said they would vote for me," says Taylor.
Taylor is hoping the residents of his sprawling central Texas district, which includes the Bush ranch near Crawford, will take a similar shine to him. A Harvard MBA and heir to an oil fortune, he served 10 years in the U.S. Marines and volunteered for service in Iraq, where he led reconnaissance patrols and had a hand in planning the rescue of POW Jessica Lynch in 2003. But the wartime experience that left the deepest mark, he says, was seeing the torture chambers Saddam Hussein employed. "Iraq gave me a better understanding of the freedoms we enjoy in this country and inspired me to do more to ensure we pass on those freedoms," he says. Married with two young daughters, Taylor faces tough competition from incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards, a popular Democrat who has held his seat for eight consecutive terms. But if other Republican candidates appear to be distancing themselves from the war in Iraq, Taylor, who served as a captain, embraces his firsthand insight into the subject as one of his greatest assets. "Any human endeavor is imperfect," he says. "But by and large, we've done what we needed to do and what we need to continue to do."
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: LOST HER LEGS BUT NOT HER SPIRIT
Moments after her airborne Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade just north of Baghdad, a dazed and seriously wounded Tammy Duckworth helped pilot the smoking machine safely back to ground. She lost her legs in the ambush that day, Nov. 12, 2004, but also learned something about herself. "At the most difficult moment in my life, I did what I was supposed to do," says Duckworth, then a captain in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Today she's focusing her can-do spirit on running for the House as a Democrat in Illinois's sixth district. The political bug bit Duckworth, 38, while she was still rehabilitating in 2005. She had been invited to attend President Bush's State of the Union address that January and was sitting in the office of Democrat Richard Durbin, Illinois's senior senator, when she spied her inspiration. "We could see the American flag waving over Capitol Hill," she recalls, "and I thought, 'Wow, this is what I fought for.'" Duckworth began speaking out on health care—she is particularly concerned about VA hospital closings—and declared her intentions to run for Congress last December. Duckworth's husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, 39, who sets up computer networks, says campaigning has helped his wife cope with her injuries. She agrees and insists the loss of her legs hasn't slowed her down. "I'm not limited by my disability. If anything, it gives me compassion, an understanding," she says. "I can do anything."