Wisconsin is "America's Dairyland," the
northwest suburban 8th U.S. House District is
Illinois' equivalent. Both candidates are milking
the area for every available vote, and if voters
were cows, they'd have long since ceased producing
Republican Joe Walsh is opinionated and obnoxious,
while Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth is
vague and vacillating.
is seeking a second term based on his strident
anti-Obama, anti-"Obamacare" rhetoric
and Tea Party-pleasing record. He and outside
groups and Super PACs will raise and spend $5
million. His strategy is to conduct an intensive
micro-campaign, holding town hall meetings where
anybody can ask questions and building a sizable
network of fervent door knockers. He expects to
win because of his on-the-ground operation.
a "princess" among state Democrats and a
protege of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Mayor Rahm
Emanuel, is relying on her compelling personal
narrative as a war hero and an amputee. Her
campaign never mentions her federal job in the
Obama Administration or her state job in the
Blagojevich Administration. Her strategy is to
conduct a macro-campaign, relying almost solely on
media advertising and rarely making public
appearances. She expects to win because of her
on-the-air presence and her relentlessly negative
anti-Walsh broadsides. She, too, will spend $5
is much beloved by his Tea Party acolytes, who
find his candor refreshing and excuse an
occasional foot in the mouth. Walsh caught media
heat when he chided Duckworth for focusing on her
background, not her issue positions, when he
defended Missouri's Todd Akin, when he said that
another 9/11 threat is posed by "homegrown
jihadist terrorists and Islamic extremists,"
and when he introduced a bill requiring a
government-issued photo identification card to
vote in federal elections.
is much beloved by Durbin, Emanuel and other party
insiders, who view her as the perfect politician:
a female veteran and hero who never has to explain
what she says because what she says is ever so
pleasing, even if it is perfect drivel. If
Duckworth wins, expect her to be a formidable
contender for Durbin's Senate seat should he
retire in 2014.
2012 template is Durbin's 1996 campaign, which was
a masterpiece in opposition demonization. In that
contest, the then-obscure Durbin spent $4.9
million, postured as a Paul Simon-like moderate,
and excoriated his Republican foe, Al Salvi, as an
extremist who opposed gun control, abortion rights
and the assault weapons ban. Durbin won by 655,204
votes, with 56 percent of the vote.
2005 Emanuel, then chairman of the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee, recruited
Duckworth, twisted arms, and got her nominated for
the DuPage County-based 6th U.S. House District
seat being vacated by Republican Henry Hyde.
Duckworth's foe was Peter Roskam, a local state
legislator. With her mentors' aid, she raised $4.5
million, dumped most of it into the media, and
proceeded to demonize Roskam as a "rubber
stamp" for the Bush Administration (even
though he was then serving in Springfield). Her
ads ripped Roskam for his stances on immigration,
tax cuts, the Iraq War and earmarks, and in one
memorable tag line she claimed that while Roskam,
who had once worked as an intern for Tom DeLay,
was "climbing up the political ladder, using
his connections to disgraced politicians,"
Duckworth was "climbing into helicopters and
serving her country."
a hugely anti-Republican environment, the vapid
and nasty Duckworth campaign distinguished itself
by losing a race that was thought to be in the
bag. Roskam won by 4,810 votes. Disinclined to
squander a $4.5 million investment, Duckworth was
quickly bundled off to Springfield to be the
director of the Illinois Department of Veterans
Affairs, and after Obama was elected in 2008, to
Washington to be the assistant secretary for
public and intergovernmental affairs in the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs -- thereby
maintaining her political shelf life.
2011, at Durbin's urging, Illinois House Speaker
Mike Madigan dusted off Duckworth and created a
spanking new west suburban congressional district
for her that was crammed with Democrats and
Hispanics and which gave Obama 62 percent of the
vote in 2008. Her Hoffman Estates home is just
inside the district. It includes 54 percent of the
old 6th District, carefully absorbing those areas
where she beat Roskam, such as Addison, Itasca,
Wood Dale and Bensenville; it takes in just 27
percent of the old 8th District, where Walsh won
by just 290 votes in 2010, including South
Barrington, Carpentersville and Barrington Hills.
was designed to elect a Democrat, but Joe is the
kind of guy who stirs passions, and he's getting
much better known," observed one Washington
Republican political operative close to the Walsh
campaign. "I'd estimate that 40 percent (of
the district's voters) love Joe, 40 percent hate
him, and the remainder is in play."
recent We Ask America poll confirms that
assessment. An Oct. 1 survey had Duckworth leading
Walsh by 50-44 percent, with 6 percent undecided;
in the presidential race, Obama led Romney 51-41.
As for party affiliation, it was 34 percent
Republican, 32 percent Democratic and 34 percent
independent. Several conclusions can be drawn.
First, Duckworth is the better known candidate,
has been on television negatively defining Walsh
for months, and is still only at 50 percent.
Second, the Obama-Duckworth vote appears to be
conjoined; the president is obviously not pulling
the 62 percent of the vote he got in 2008. To win,
Duckworth needs a 55-45 percent Obama victory.
Third, independents appear to be breaking 2-1 for
the congressional race over? Hardly. It's
beginning anew. If Walsh were down 60-40, the
Republican Congressional Campaign Committee
($457,000), Freedom Works and the Now or Never
Super PAC ($1.3 million) would put their funds
elsewhere. Obviously, they've concluded that the
seat is winnable, and they have bought television
time. They have rejected as counterproductive
either tying Duckworth to Obama or attacking her
personally, and she is not an incumbent with a
voting record. So expect this: Duckworth has said
that "America is better off today than 4
years ago." Walsh's negative ads will hammer
her as a "career politician" who is
"out of touch" with her constituents.
Walsh's positive ads will emphasize his many
dissents from the Republican majority and will tab
him an independent, hoping to peel off some of the
campaign has been a replication of 2006. Walsh is
an "extremist," charges Duckworth, whose
ads trumpet that he will "repeal Medicare's
drug benefit, replace Medicare's guarantee with
vouchers, and raise taxes on the middle
class." Other ads hype the proposition that
she will "go the extra mile" while
"standing up for working families" and
that she will "give everyone a shot at the
American dream" while being a
"bipartisan" congresswoman. How nice.
According to her press aide, Duckworth will
"protect Medicare, protect student loans,
listen to people, and be an independent person in
Washington." It gets better. Adds the aide:
"She agrees with President Obama a lot, but
also disagrees." That's a relief.
for some specific issues on which Duckworth
differs from Obama, the aide asked for questions
to be sent in an e-mail, but he did not respond to
Daily Herald was specific. In a recent article, it
labeled Duckworth a "tax cheat,"
accusing her of taking a home owner's property tax
exemption on her Hoffman Estates home and her
DeKalb County rental property, claiming both as
her primary residence. "It was an oversight,
an error," Duckworth's aide said. "She
made it right. She paid back the taxes."
will be recalled that Walsh was the subject of
recurring headlines during 2011 when his former
wife sought child support arrearages. The
headlines labeled him a "deadbeat
congressman." The case has been settled.
is no ambiguity about Walsh's philosophy and
goals. Unlike Duckworth, Walsh wants to repeal
"Obamacare." He opposes raising the $16
trillion national debt ceiling, he supports Paul
Ryan's Medicare reforms, he backs charter schools
and he supports the military, although he has
voted against funding for America's current wars.
Duckworth, Walsh is not a "career
politician." He has limited himself to three
terms. His penchant for controversy stands in
stark contrast to Duckworth's incessant trimming
and obsessive noncommitment.
outlook: As in 2010, Walsh is attempting to
nationalize the contest, to position himself as a
battler against Washington incompetence and
creeping socialism. Duckworth is trying to
localize the race, avoid any connection with
Obama, and hope people will vote for that pleasant
helicopter pilot hero.
are 193 8th District precincts in Cook County,
primarily in Schaumburg, Hanover and Elk Grove
townships. That's Duckworth's base. There are 182
precincts in DuPage County, with the mostly white
townships of Bloomingdale and York being solidly
Republican but offset by Hispanics in Addison
Township. There are 55 precincts in Kane County,
in Walsh's old district. Turnout will be in the
realm of 280,000.
prediction: The 8th District is filled with
working class and middle management voters. Tying
Walsh to the Tea Party is not fatal. Duckworth's
lethargy and complacency is Walsh's greatest
asset. Duckworth should win by 15,000 votes, but
Walsh cannot yet be counted out.