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Duckworth wins Illinois House seat over Tea Party incumbent

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Iraq War veteran who headed President Barack Obama's Department of Veteran Affairs, beat an incumbent Republican on Tuesday as Democrats gained four U.S. House seats in the president's home state of Illinois.

Duckworth's opponent Joe Walsh stirred controversy last month with a suggestion that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a mother. Walsh was one of three Republican congressional candidates this election season whose chances were harmed by controversial remarks about abortion.

Backed by the Tea Party movement, Walsh was elected in 2010 by just 292 votes and joined a class of first-term Republicans whose resistance to compromise was a hallmark of a dysfunctional Congress.

Although Republicans will retain the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats gained four House seats in Illinois. Democrats defeated two other incumbent Republicans in Chicago suburban districts, Judy Biggert and Robert Dold, and an incumbent Republican in a central Illinois district, Bobby Schilling.

Democrats Bill Foster, Brad Schneider and Cheri Bustos defeated Biggert, Dold and Schilling, respectively, in districts that were redrawn to favor Democrats after the 2010 census.

The victories mean that Democrats in Illinois succeeded in reversing a Republican gain of four U.S. House seats in 2010. The powerful Illinois state house speaker, Michael Madigan, used Democratic power in state government to redraw election districts in a way that would help Democratic candidates.

Duckworth, who was featured at the Democratic National Convention, opened up a double-digit lead after Walsh said on October 18 that abortion was never necessary to save a woman's life. The congressman later softened his remarks, which were criticized by medical experts, to say such instances were "extremely rare."

Walsh's remarks came two months after a statement by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin that women have biological defenses against pregnancy in the case of "legitimate rape." Also, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said October 23 that a pregnancy resulting from rape was "something God intended to happen." Both Akin and Mourdock lost Tuesday to Democrats.

Duckworth, 44, who lost both legs and part of her right arm in Iraq, had previously run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010.

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski and Samuel P. Jacobs; Editing by Greg McCune, Bernard Orr)

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