In a jam-packed bar on Chicago's North Side, Congressman Joe Walsh Thursday ended more than a week of speculation, confirming that he would be running for election in a Northwest suburban congressional district rather than facing fellow freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren of Winfield.
Walsh -- lured by the thought of an easier primary and the promise, according to top Illinois GOP officials who requested anonymity and influential Barrington Republican Jack Roeser, of $3.5 million in general election fundraising help from House Speaker John Boehner -- will now make a bid in the recently drawn 8th District, roughly centered in Schaumburg and including Addison, Elk Grove, Hanover and Wheeling townships.
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The move sets the stage for perhaps the most watched race in the country in the General Election, with a potential opponent in Hoffman Estates Democrat Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq War veteran and former Obama administration member who gained national recognition in 2006 during her congressional race against Peter Roskam of Wheaton.
Duckworth faces a primary challenge from Raja Krishnamoorthi, also of Hoffman Estates.
Yet, like Duckworth, Walsh still faces a primary battle -- against DuPage Regional Superintendent of Education Darlene Ruscitti and Barrington businessman Andrew Palomo. Ruscitti, who held an Addison fundraiser on Thursday, is expected to receive the support of several members of the Illinois Republican delegation over Walsh -- including Roskam, the GOP chief deputy whip and 6th District congressman, and 13th District Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Hinsdale.
"I've made an equal number of enemies in the Republican establishment and the Democratic establishment," Walsh told the crowd at the Cubby Bear in Chicago, to cheers.
Yet extolling President Ronald Reagan, he said Republicans were "warriors" in a fight they needed to win.
"I refuse to believe that most Americans want to depend upon government," Walsh said. "And this run in the 8th will prove we're right."
Walsh's office remained tight-lipped about the decision up until the final announcement, but late Thursday morning, a Palatine Tea Party group suggested that it would be the 8th where Walsh would be making a primary bid and encouraged supporters to attend the Chicago Tea Party meeting at the Cubby Bear, where Walsh had been scheduled for more than a month to speak.
"Congressman Walsh has made a final decision as to what district he will be representing in the 2012 elections. This will be an important decision for those of us in the 8th District," Carol Ann Parisi and Jackie Menconi of Awaken America wrote in the group's newsletter.
Hours later, a fundraising email from the Joe Walsh for Congress Committee asked for donations: "To be frank, I am in a very tough race and need all the support I can get to win. The liberals are licking their chops at the prospect of having the seat to themselves. They would love to take out a true Conservative fighter like myself. Your help will mean a great deal in my re-election."
News first broke last Monday evening that Walsh had, earlier that day, held a sit-down with Ruscitti, who acknowledged she had met with Walsh. She deferred all other questions to Walsh, saying, "I would just talk to Joe."
Illinois GOP officials later revealed that before that meeting, Walsh and Boehner had had a sit-down about the district switch. Roeser said he had called Boehner to encourage that meeting and provide Walsh with an incentive for doing so.
Roeser had given Boehner $50,000 months before.
"Joe's a hero to the party," Roeser said.
The once-a-decade redistricting process, controlled by the party that holds the most sway at the state Capitol, 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.
The recently drawn 14th District -- where Walsh's home is -- contains roughly a third of Hultgren's current congressional district. Divided almost evenly between Kane and McHenry counties, it is expected to pull Republican in 2012.
Hultgren was 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.
In a statement, Krishnamoorthi proclaimed he was the Democratic candidate "best suited" to take on Walsh in a general election and said he "welcomed the chance to contrast" their respective agendas.
Duckworth said she has "never backed down from a fight in my life."
Wheeling Township GOP Committeewoman Ruth O'Connell, of Arlington Heights, who was at the meeting, said she believes Walsh is the "only Republican who can win in the 8th."
Still, she said, "I told him he needs to tone down his rhetoric."
As Walsh's speech concluded, new nomination petitions were passed around the bar.