CHICAGO (AP) - With less than a month before the Illinois primary for U.S. Senate, former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp zeroed in on presumed Democratic front-runner U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, using the last televised debate Friday to sharply criticize the congresswoman's leadership.
Zopp went after Duckworth - who has statewide name recognition and a fundraising advantage - on gun control legislation, her voting record, debate participation and experience in nearly every response during a debate hosted by Chicago's WLS-TV. State Sen. Napoleon Harris, the third Democratic candidate, largely stayed out of the fray.
"The fact is that Congresswoman Duckworth has done very little with her time in Congress," Zopp said. "It's all about the politics ...not about driving real action for the families of Illinois."
Duckworth largely focused her attention on questioning the record of incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican seeking a second term.
The tone of the debate was the strongest of the campaign, with Zopp drawing attention to her work as a federal prosecutor. Harris focused on his experiences as a legislator and former NFL player.
The winner of the March 15 primary contest is likely to take on Kirk in November. He faces a lesser-known primary challenger.
While Duckworth largely ignored Zopp's approach, she did take a jab about Zopp's time serving on the Chicago Board of Education. The board approved contracts later linked to scandal. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in October for her role in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to a suburban education firm, SUPES Academy, in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.
"I can't speak to why Ms. Zopp rubber stamped the SUPES contact," Duckworth said.
Zopp, a former board member appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has said Byrd-Bennett was a reputable educator when hired and there weren't early indicators she was involved in wrongdoing.
Duckworth, instead, blasted Kirk on international policy, among other issues.
"Mark Kirk has been wrong on every issue of national security that he has been involved in," Duckworth said.
The debate also got emotional at one point with Duckworth's voice breaking during a question on homeless veterans. The former Army pilot whose helicopter was shot down in Iraq has held veterans affairs positions in Illinois and the Obama administration.
Duckworth confirmed to reporters afterward that she would not be participating in any further debates. All of the joint candidate appearances have been in Chicago, something Zopp said wasn't fair to downstate voters.
Duckworth dismissed Zopp's criticism.
"I've been shot at before. Trust me, I can take it," she told reporters.
Zopp amped up her tone to illustrate the differences between her and Duckworth. Harris said he avoided the exchanges because his record stood for itself.
The Democrats did agree on a few issues. All three called for carrying out immigration laws more humanely, support a minimum wage increase and urged Kirk to have a clearer stance on who should nominate a successor for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Top Republicans say the job should be up to President Barack Obama's successor, but Democrats say it is Obama's constitutional duty.
Kirk has called the debate over replacing Scalia "unseemly" and said the conservative Scalia's life should be honored.