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Sen. Mark Kirk apologizes to 'American hero' Rep. Tammy Duckworth for inappropriate debate comment

"Gratitude for her family's service."

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, right, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, left, face off in their first televised debate in what's considered a crucial race that could determine which party controls the Senate, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, at the University of Illinois in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) apologized Friday for calling into question his opponent's ethnic and veteran history during Thursday evening debate.

Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is challenging Kirk for his seat, drew upon her family's service in the U.S. military — as well as her own — as she made the case for why she is needed in the Senate during wartime.

An Iraq War veteran who lost both of her legs in combat, Duckworth contended that her "family has served this nation in uniform going back to the [American] Revolution."

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth face off in their first televised debate in what's considered a crucial race that could determine which party controls the Senate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Kirk, too a U.S. veteran, responded with: "I'd forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."

Duckworth was born in Thailand to a Thai mother of Chinese descent. Her father, an American, is a Marine Corps veteran.

"Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family's service," Kirk tweeted Friday afternoon.

His campaign initially refused to apologize following the debate. Instead, a spokesperson said:

Senator Kirk has consistently called Rep. Duckworth a war hero and honors her family’s service to this country. But that’s not what this debate was about. Rep. Duckworth lied about her legal troubles, was unable to defend her failures at the VA and then falsely attacked Senator Kirk over his record on supporting gay rights.

Kirk's seat is considered an extremely vulnerable one for Republicans in 2016. Duckworth leads the senator by seven points, according to RealClearPolitics' aggregated polling data.

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