Rep. Joe Walsh’s campaign isn’t talking about reports that he might change his mind and run in his relocated 8th Congressional District, rather than the newly drawn 14th District in which he lives.
The campaign for current 14th District Rep. Randy Hultgren, which is unhappy to say the least about a Walsh vs. Hultgren primary next March, isn’t talking either.
Both campaigns declined to comment on reports that Walsh, R-McHenry, met Monday with 8th District GOP candidate Darlene Ruscitti to tell her that he planned to run there instead. Calls to Ruscitti, the DuPage County regional superintendent of schools, were not returned Tuesday.
“I can’t confirm that,” Walsh spokesman Justin Roth said Tuesday morning. “That’s all I’m going to say for now.”
But local Republicans, and the Democratic candidates for the 8th District, are publicly welcoming the idea.
McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Mike Tryon said that a move by Walsh would save GOP voters the dilemma of having to elect one incumbent at the expense of the other. Walsh won election to the 8th District last year, beating incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean by 290 votes with the help of a third-party candidate.
A 14th District primary would pit Hultgren, R-Winfield, a longtime state lawmaker, against Walsh, a political firebrand with national name recognition. That recognition is both good and bad, from his no-holds-barred attacks on the Obama administration to his financial issues, including allegations by his ex-wife that he owes her more than $100,000 in back child support.
“I’ve wondered all along why Joe wouldn’t be running in the 8th,” Tryon said. “The problem people are having in the 14th is that Randy Hultgren and Joe Walsh are two people with similar political commitment, and it forces people in the 14th to choose between two conservatives.”
Springfield Democrats who controlled post-census redistricting moved the 8th District south to cover northwest Cook, northern DuPage and northeastern Kane counties, making the district easier for a Democratic pickup. The new map, which Republicans including Walsh and Hultgren are challenging in federal court, puts Walsh in the 14th, which covers most of McHenry County and parts of the remaining collar counties, including Kendall and DeKalb counties.
If Walsh does run in the 8th District, it’s because he’s scared of losing to Hultgren, said Paul Green, political science professor at Roosevelt University.
“Right now, the primary in the 14th looks like one hell of a fight compared to the primary in the 8th. He’s looking for the easy way out,” Green said.
Democratic candidates for the new 8th District, former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, welcomed the challenge. Krishnamoorthi campaign spokesman Mike Murray called Walsh “clearly unelectable.”
“His radical tea party agenda, combined with his personal problems, have made him unviable even in the Republican-leaning 14th District,” Murray said.
“Bring it on!” Duckworth’s campaign tweeted Monday evening. “Joe Walsh is coming back to run against Tammy. Will you let him know we’re ready for a fight?”
But a Walsh run in the 8th District could create the very problem for Democrats that they had hoped their redistricting would create for Republicans – an incumbent waiting as the other party’s candidates drain their treasuries in the primary.
Walsh, with his name recognition and the $466,058 he reported as of the end of the third quarter, has a clear advantage over the 8th District GOP challengers. Candidate Andrew Palomo’s campaign reported $4,484 on hand as of Sept. 30, while Ruscitti did not even file a report with the Federal Election Commission.
Krishnamoorthi and Duckworth would have to spend down their war chests – $635,996 and $364,295, respectively – to win the Democratic primary and take on Walsh in November.
However, Green said Walsh might not find the new 8th District, centered on Schaumburg and covering parts of Elgin, Carpentersville, Elk Grove Village and Elmhurst, much easier of a race.
"It wouldn't necessarily be a walkover in the primary, and he certainly would have the fight of his life in the general [election]," Green said.
Looming over the entire issue is the lawsuit against the new map. Republicans allege that the Democratic remap is politically and racially gerrymandered, discriminates against Republican and Latino voters, and violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
The burden that the Republicans have to meet to successfully challenge the map is huge, Northwestern University law professor Robert Bennett said.
“The Supreme Court has thus far held that you have to make a very strong showing of unfairness of the map as a whole,” Bennett said.
Republicans have been holding out hope that the judges will not only throw out the Democratic map, but also impose a “fair map" they submitted to the court, which would put McHenry, Boone, northern Kane and far northwestern Cook counties into the 8th District.
Experts in constitutional law, such as Bennett and Northern Illinois University assistant political science professor Artemus Ward, said it would be highly unlikely that the court would take such an action.