U.S. Senator mocks opponent’s racial heritage, history of military service. She’s an Iraq veteran who lost both legs

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Republican U.S. Sen. has raised his Democratic rival’s immigrant background and mocked her ’s history of military service, saying he had forgotten the congresswoman’s “ came all the way from Thailand to serve .”

The comment came Thursday evening during the debate between Kirk and U.S. Rep. , at the University of Illinois in Springfield. The Illinois Senate contest is one of a handful of races that could determine which party controls the chamber next year.

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, was born in Bangkok. Her mother is Thai and she has said her father first went to Southeast Asia while serving with the Marines in Vietnam. The congresswoman said her family has “served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution.”

Kirk responded: “I had forgotten your parents came all of the way from Thailand to .”

The remark was greeted mostly by silence in the auditorium, and the Democratic Senatorial Committee immediately called the comment offensive and said Kirk should apologize.

Duckworth, the first Asian-American congresswoman from Illinois, later tweeted a photo of herself with her parents, including her father in uniform displaying his medals. Her tweet says: “My mom is an immigrant and my dad and his family have served this nation in uniform since the Revolution.”

After the debate, Kirk left without speaking to reporters. Campaign manager Kevin Artl said the senator has called Duckworth “a war hero in his commercials and he commends her family’s service.”

Duckworth when the Black Hawk she was co-piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004.

Seth Perlman / AP
Seth Perlman / APRepublican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, right, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, left, face off in their first televised debate

Kirk has been criticized before for statements he’s made during the campaign. In August, he said President Barack Obama was acting like the “drug dealer in chief” when the U.S. made a $400 million payment to Iran contingent on the return of U.S. prisoners.

He also has apologized after referring to South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s unmarried, as a “bro with no ho.”

Kirk’s latest comments drew heavy scorn across social media. On Friday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton posted on that she is thankful for Duckworth’s and her family’s service, adding “It’s really not that hard to grasp, Mark Kirk.”

Kirk, a first-term senator from Highland Park, is seen as one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents, and Democrats consider Duckworth’s success on Election Day one of the keys to reclaiming a majority in the chamber. Duckworth has a comfortable lead in the most recent polls, but Kirk says the race is closer than people think.

Burnett reported from Chicago.

About Ivan Moreno And Sara Burnett, The Associated Press