Updated: November 2, 2011 3:20PM
Don’t underestimate Joe Walsh.
It’s true no politician wants to wake up to a headline like the one the Chicago Sun-Times ran Thursday.
Nor does a self-styled fiscal conservative freshman congressman relish reading the detailed kind of story our reporter Abdon Pallasch wrote about the $117,000 in back child support that a lawsuit by Walsh’s former wife contends he owes her.
But two words in that headline have the capacity to sound a rallying cry for, not against, this take-no-prisoners newcomer to Washington, D.C.
Those two words: Tea Party.
Rep. Walsh has quickly become one of the flame-throwing, anti-compromise darlings of a movement that has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has the muscle to frustrate both a Democratic president and a Republican speaker of the House.
Though the new congressional map for Illinois, drawn by the Democrats, attempts to kill off Walsh’s chances for re-election by carving up his north and northwest suburban district, it’s not a bad idea to remember that in his first race in 2010, he was given no chance of winning. But win, he did. First, in the 8th District primary against some seemingly strong mainstream Republicans. And again in the general election against the formidable, pro-business, three-term Democrat incumbent Melissa Bean, who had, not that long ago, vanquished the legendary conservative, Phil Crane.
In that 2010 campaign, there already were serious questions about Walsh’s financial judgment and character.
But Walsh turned the foreclosure of his condo into a David vs. Goliath narrative about the tanking economy. And he transformed his pro-choice/anti-abortion flip-flop into a principled, personal “journey.”
Walsh declares himself “the most publicly vetted candidate” of that campaign season. “I felt like I was naked,” he told me by phone on Thursday. “I’d lost a home, struggled.”
And rode that struggle to victory.
Though Democrats detest him and critics in his own Republican Party, through clenched teeth, argue he will say or do anything that pays off politically, Joe Walsh is attracting campaign cash, cable TV attention and concern.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday immediately mass e-mailed the Sun-Times front page. One of Walsh’s potential Democratic 2012 rivals, Raja Krishnamoorthi, launched a “Joe Must Go” petition drive that included the Pallasch article.
Walsh denounced the Sun-Times story as a “hit piece on a Tea Party conservative.” And he proudly noted that the conservative Club For Growth immediately endorsed him just the day before for re-election.
Walsh has accused President Barack Obama of “lying.” He has called GOP warhorse Sen. John McCain “silly” and “old.”
Establishment politicos my be repulsed, but as one GOP veteran grimly noted, “Every time he yells at MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, someone sends him money.”
Joe Walsh is on his way to becoming the Michele Bachmann of Illinois.