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Some Military Veterans Feel Like Pawns In Fierce Senate Race Between Kirk, Duckworth

(CBS) – The race for U.S. Senate is turning out to be one of our most heated in Illinois.

It pits the incumbent, Republican Mark Kirk, against Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, both veterans. So far, the race has gotten nasty as each candidate questions the others' military background and credibility.

CBS 2's Rob Johnson takes a closer look.

Kirk, a former Naval intelligence officer, is attacking Democrat Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who was shot down.

"I've worked on veterans' homelessness, care for female veterans. For him to cynically attack my service to veterans just shows how insecure he is about his own service," Duckworth says.

Meantime, Duckworth is using veterans to criticize Kirk, specifically revelations he inflated his experience.

"That was small and selfish of me to do. The only person I hurt was myself," Kirk says.

There's a lot at stake. Kirk estimates there are 700,000 veterans in Illinois.

So, how has all the campaign rhetoric played with veterans?

Johnson visited High Compression Garage in Frankfort, where they build motorcycles for veterans.

Ken Voelker, who served in the Air National Guard for 23 years, says he would prefer if the candidates would talk about campaign issues.

Former Marine Sgt. Michael Cole, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says neither candidate has lived up to his expectations.

"If you're going to say like hey we're for veterans, then go out there and be for veterans; call somebody back, send an email, do something. If you care, show you care. Actions speak louder than words, and both of them should know that firsthand as veterans," he says.

Yet it's their special status as military veterans that defines their final appeal to voters.

"You want a veteran who actually follows up, because we all realize the Army or the military can be a bureaucracy, and can sometimes make mistakes," Kirk says.

Says Duckworth: "I have been there from the moment I woke up in that hospital bed."

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