As Congressman Joe Walsh's legal team preps for a pretrial conference in his child-support suit next week, his primary election opponent, Congressman Randy Hultgren, has taken a poll that among other issues, looks at how Walsh's personal past might cost him politically.
The poll, the first conducted by the Tarrance Group for the Hultgren campaign, sampled residents of the new 14th Congressional District, Hultgren campaign officials said.
Hultgren campaign spokesman Andrew Flach declined to release a script of the poll, but said "as far as the language is concerned, we only tested on things that were already in the media. We didn't break new ground."
Yet, after hearing from constituents that the poll contained a number of questions on child support and his financial past, Walsh is calling the effort a "push poll" -- a political campaign technique designed to influence voters by disseminating negative and false information -- and evidence of a dirty campaign.
"If he raises his voice and calls into question who I am as a father, I'll punch him in the face, figuratively speaking," said Walsh, of McHenry.
The 14th District primary race between the two freshman congressman is expected to be among the bloodiest and most watched races across the country. As the state loses a congressional seat due to slowing population growth, the 14th District is just one of several drawn by Democratic cartographers to force Republican incumbents like Walsh and Hultgren into a faceoff on March 20.
No matter which man wins the GOP primary, Democrats are essentially handed a victory, of sorts, with one of the Republican freshmen knocked from his post even before the general election takes place.
Hultgren has said he won't "make things personal" but admits, at the same time, "campaigns are where that's the hardest. Especially when there's not that much difference on the issues."
The 14th District includes large swaths of Kane and McHenry counties and portions of Lake and DuPage counties.
Walsh says he and Hultgren sat down over the summer, spoke about the possibility of running against one another, and pledged to both lead an issue-orientated campaign. Walsh conducted a poll in mid-October in the 14th District, campaign spokesman Justin Roth said.
Yet, "we didn't ask a single personal negative issue about Randy Hultgren," Roth said.
Walsh said he would "sign a pledge tomorrow" that he "won't go personal."
"And I'd ask him to do the same thing," Walsh challenged.
A New York Times piece late last month displayed the first evidence by the Hultgren campaign that the quiet, spiritual, father of four is gearing up for a nasty fight with fellow freshman congressman Walsh, who occupies a Washington D.C. office just steps away from his own.
"Using a leadership style that emulates Rod Blagojevich or Barack Obama, Joe likes to govern ineffectively though news releases, sound bites, political grandstanding, and name calling," Flach told The New York Times. "He certainly does not lead by example."
Flach said the recent poll "was nothing more than a benchmark poll to gather the public opinion on a number of different issues related to the campaign. There was nothing personal about the poll -- the questions were crafted using widely known and reported facts, not about personal issues."
Walsh's former wife alleges he owes her $117,437 in late child support payments and interest for their three children, now ages 24, 20 and 16. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Tuesday.
While Hultgren raised slightly more money than Walsh in the third quarter, Walsh maintains an overall lead in money raised and cash on hand.
As of Sept. 30, Hultgren had raised $644,887 and had $275,810 in cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. Walsh had raised $758,749 and had $466,058 in cash on hand.