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Walsh gaining ground on Duckworth’s territorial advantage

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) answers questiduring 8th Congressional District debate with Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth Sept. 14 2012.

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) answers a question during the 8th Congressional District debate with Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth on Sept. 14, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:18AM

The danger for Tammy Duckworth in the November election is that Congressman Joe Walsh is a better, more nimble, more natural retail politician than she is.

Please note, I’m not saying he’s a better or more honest person. But Walsh is, as a political operative noted Tuesday, “A great first date . . . until you figure out that he’s Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction.’ ”

The operative, as you might imagine, is not a fan.

But Walsh, the incumbent, has been carefully controlling his message of late. No longer does he lob verbal grenades like he did back in July, when he attacked Duckworth, a double-amputee combat veteran awarded the Purple Heart in 2004, because she makes note of her military service as she campaigns.

“Now I’m running against a woman who — I mean, my God, that’s all she talks about,” Walsh told a town hall audience this summer. “Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”

An uproar ensued, and Walsh quickly retrenched, saying, “Of course Duckworth is a hero.” He has been relatively gaffe-free ever since.

When it comes to heroes, Walsh is lionized by the Tea Party for his upset victory over three-term Democrat Melissa Bean in 2010. And for his far-right stance on fiscal issues, not to mention social issues such as abortion.

Still, Walsh came into the 2012 race facing a bigger challenge than he did two years ago.

Thanks to a new redistricting map, there are 6 percent more Democratic voters in the newly revised 8th District. Almost two-thirds of voters here went for Obama in 2008. So Duckworth arrived with a substantial advantage. A Public Policy Poll last month put her 14 points ahead of Walsh.

But there is a growing sense that the race is tightening. Sean Trende, an election analyst for, said Tuesday that the website, which aggregates polling data, is considering downgrading its rating of the Duckworth-Walsh contest from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.”

“It’s not a double-digit race anymore, it’s a single-digit race,” said Trende, “even before the Romney surge.”

Duckworth, who lost to Peter Roskam in 2006, has become a more seasoned campaigner since her defeat. And stints as director of veterans affairs in Springfield and assistant secretary of veterans affairs in Washington, D.C., have helped. But she remains a policy wonk at heart, with a military sense of discipline and sometimes demeanor.

Walsh, on the other hand, has an almost Joe Biden quality to his glad-handing. And he has an appeal in those blue-collar parts of the 8th District where working-class voters, especially in these terrible economic times, have some understanding of a guy, like Walsh, who has had foreclosure and child-support issues.

Throw in the Romney surge — assuming it lasts — and millions in SuperPAC money now flowing in, and this, people, could be a closer race than previously forecast.

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