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U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh to run in 14th District; would face Hultgren in primary

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh

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Sweet: Rep. Joe Walsh will run in Illinois 14; leaves Democrats in 8th, Duckworth and Raja with no major GOP foe
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Updated: November 30, 2011 12:18AM

The outspoken favorite of the Illinois Tea Party, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, announced Wednesday he will run against fellow Republican Randy Hultgren in the 14th congressional district — unless a court throws out the legislative map creating the new district.

That sets up perhaps the hottest congressional primary race of the season between a conservative and a very conservative candidate.

Illinois Democrats redrew the congressional map with an eye toward giving the state’s five Republican freshman congressmen few options except to run against each other.

Hultgren, 45, a former state legislator with a more soft-spoken demeanor than Walsh, represents the current 14th district, which runs from Hultgren’s home in Winfield almost as far west as the Mississippi River.

The new 14th District is a crescent hugging Chicago’s exurbs from Gurnee to Marengo to Minooka. Republicans have challenged that map in federal court.

Walsh, 49, a telegenic spokesman for the no-compromise wing of the Republican Party, found his McHenry home no longer in the 8th district he currently represents when the map was withdrawn. It will be in the 14th.

“I understand that there is another Republican Congressman drawn into this new district, Randy Hultgren, and it would be unfortunate if we had to run against each other,” Walsh wrote in an e-mail to constituents Wednesday. “Randy and I are both good conservatives who share many of the same values, but there are also healthy differences between the two of us. . . . Now is not the time to have career politicians in Washington who will just get along, compromise too much and do what their party leadership tells them to do.”

A little over an hour later, Hultgren fired back: “I’m disappointed that the Congressman from the 8th District has decided to abandon his own district to run against me in a primary. By doing so, he’s playing into the hands of the Springfield Democrats and [House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi.” Hultgren said voters don’t want “political grandstanding, sound bites, and name calling.”

West suburban Republicans told the Sun-Times Wednesday they expect most elected officials will endorse Hultgren.

“Randy is a known entity in the district, and I think the district will support him,” said former DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will make no endorsements in next year’s primary elections, his office said Wednesday.

While Walsh is the Illinois congressman most in line with the Tea Party’s views, members of that party also appreciate that Hultgren has sided with them on some issues, including a high-profile vote against raising the debt ceiling, said Steve Stevlic, director of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots.

“Hultgren saw this coming for a long time and as soon as he saw this coming, he changed the way he was voting,” Stevlic said. “Up until that point he was voting strictly with [House Speaker John] Boehner and the House leadership.”

That vote against raising the debt ceiling bothered some Republican donors who Hultgren will need to mend fences with if he hopes to catch up to Walsh, who has $603,000 in his campaign kitty as of the most recent reporting period. Hultgren has $458,000.

Walsh will also have the support of the Club for Growth, a pro-business group.

Hultgren has not cut the same national profile as Walsh. In the arguments over raising the debt ceiling, the silver-haired Walsh became a go-to source on the cable television news-talk shows with his caustic admonitions to President Barack Obama’s administration to keep its fiscal house in order.

Walsh’s profile was damaged this summer by revelations that he stopped paying his ex-wife child support years ago and owes her $117,000 in back payments, according to court filings.

Last week a Cook County judge ruled against Walsh, saying he must answer questions about why he has not paid the money — or prove he has paid.

But Stevlic warned Hultgren that Tea Party members want to hear about the issues, not personal attacks.

The Republicans had an informal pact not to announce which district they would run in until a court ruled on their map challenge. But, as Walsh noted in his e-mail to supporters, that ruling may not come until November.

“No matter which map prevails, I’ve decided to run for re-election from the district in which I live and where I represent most of my current constituents,” Walsh wrote. “If the Democrat map stands, I will be running in what is the new 14th District which entails a good portion of Lake County, almost all of McHenry County, Kane County, Kendall County, and some of Will and DeKalb Counties. I live in McHenry and my current district office is in Northern Lake County. This area is home.”

Walsh currently represents the 8th District. Under the Democratic map, the 8th district shifts to become a Democratic-leaning district, connecting Democratic voters in Elgin and Carpentersville with pockets in Lombard, Bensenville and Wheeling.

Former Veterans Affairs official Tammy Duckworth and former Deputy Illinois Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi are facing off in a Democratic primary in that district.

Other potential primary races could take place if freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger jumps into Rep. Don Manzullo’s district or if former Rep. Debbie Halvorson runs against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

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