SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBSDC/AP) — A war hero congresswoman appeared publicly Tuesday for the first time as a U.S. Senate hopeful, taking jabs at the Republican incumbent, offering stern advice for the Democrats’ top presidential contender and defending her work under now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, elected to a second House term last fall, criticized what she said were U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s votes to cut Medicare and support for “tax cuts for large corporations at the expense of small business” while she touted expanded pre-kindergarten education and college affordability.

“I want to make sure that Illinois remains a place where my neighbors have the opportunity to achieve the American dream just like I did,” said the 47-year-old Duckworth, who was born in Bangkok, the daughter of a U.S. marine.

Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs and part of an arm in Iraq War combat in 2004, predicts an expensive race as Democrats struggle to regain Senate control in 2016.

Kirk, a five-term congressman who won President Barack Obama’s former Senate post in 2010, suffered a stroke in 2012 that required months of grueling rehabilitation. The Republican, who has his own distinguished military career, says his disability raised his profile and gives him a re-election edge.

Campaign manager Kevin Artl was ready with a retort to Duckworth’s critique, contending she supported nearly $750 million in cuts to Medicare and was forced to pay back taxes after claiming homestead exemptions on two properties.

“Tammy Duckworth is already proving you can’t trust anything she says,” Artl said in an email.

Duckworth’s decision prompted Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, whom Duckworth defeated in the 2012 Democratic congressional primary, to announce Tuesday he’ll run for the seat.

A member of the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Duckworth would not comment specifically on whether Hillary Rodham Clinton acted criminally in deleting 30,000 emails — which Clinton described as personal — from her tenure as secretary of state. Duckworth said the State Department should publicly release the Clinton emails it holds and that Clinton, the Democrats’ 2016 front-runner, “needs to” testify before the Benghazi committee.

Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the Benghazi attack.

Foes are questioning Duckworth’s relationship with Blagojevich, who appointed her director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007 after a failed run for Congress. She left that post in 2009 to work for Obama.

Without directly addressing Blagojevich, who’s serving a 14-year federal prison term for corruption, she ticked off a list of accomplishments achieved by the agency under her tutelage.

She also took aim at Kirk for signing onto the scrutinized “letter of 47” senators to Iranian leaders warning that any unpopular Obama treaty on curtailing Iran’s nuclear weapons-development program could be undone by the current or future Senates.

Duckworth said the letter undermined the president and weakened his foreign policy leverage. She said she disagreed with former President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq but proudly served. Artl pointed to news reports from her 2006 campaign in which she criticized Bush while the war continued.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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