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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 RealClearPolitics.com, 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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