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Article updated: 11/29/2011 6:49 PM

Walsh might switch districts, announcement expected

By Kerry Lester

Eighth District Congressman Joe Walsh is expected to announce as early as the next day or two whether he will run for re-election in a district different from the one where he has already been campaigning.

Such a move would allow the McHenry Tea Partyer to avoid a bitter, costly primary fight against a fellow Republican freshman but at the same time would require him to launch a new campaign in a far more Democratic-leaning district.

In the meantime, Walsh is staying relatively tight-lipped about any change of plans, saying little enough to allow room to maneuver either way.

"The whole notion of me running in the 8th I can't confirm or deny," Walsh said Tuesday. "I mean, as of now, I'm running in the new 14th (against fellow freshman Randy Hultgren)."

Yet, he continued, "if anything else were to happen, it should happen quickly. There are two or three (Republican) candidates in the 8th working hard to collect signatures."

News first broke Monday evening that Walsh had, earlier that day, held a sit-down with Darlene Ruscitti, the DuPage County regional superintendent of education, who is running as a Republican in the new 8th District GOP primary race. Barrington businessman Andrew Palomo is also making a bid.

Ruscitti acknowledged that she had met with Walsh. She deferred all other questions to Walsh, saying, "I would just talk to Joe."

The once-a-decade redistricting process, controlled by the party that holds the most sway at the state Capitol -- right now, that's Democrats -- has created a number of headaches for Walsh and the GOP, with several districts drawn to the perceived advantage of Democrats or forcing a faceoff between two Republicans, like Walsh and Hultgren.

Walsh said Tuesday he believes Republicans have "a great chance to overturn the map."

But, in the meantime, the charismatic firebrand who's made a name for himself in recent months decrying government spending with caustic rhetoric, is oscillating between the lures of party money or a safer Republican district as the December congressional filing deadline draws closer.

The recently drawn 14th District -- where Walsh's home is located -- contains roughly a third of his current congressional district. Divided almost evenly between Kane and McHenry Counties, it is expected to pull Republican in 2012.

But pull for whom? Along with Walsh, Congressman Randy Hultgren, of Winfield, has announced plans to run in the new 14th. The former state lawmaker is seen as a tough opponent for Walsh, who is battling more mainstream members of his own party as well as allegations of late child support payments.

The new 8th district, on the other hand, contains about one-fourth of Walsh's current district, but is expected to lean Democratic in the next election, as it now contains some of the most independent voting portions of Northwest Cook and DuPage counties -- Addison, Hanover and Elk Grove townships, and parts of Wheeling Township.

Drawn without any incumbent, it has already attracted interest from two Democrats, both of Hoffman Estates -- former state comptroller candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth.

Following rumors of Walsh's jump to the 8th, Krishnamoorthi and Duckworth's campaigns shifted their attacks from one another to Walsh.

But party insiders Tuesday suggested that if Walsh does move, it doesn't guarantee Ruscitti will back down -- or that Walsh will automatically attract more party funds.

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