Just two days before the congressional filing period begins, DuPage Superintendent of Education Darlene Ruscitti, who had been expected to be a tough GOP primary challenger for Joe Walsh in the 8th District, has backed out of the race.
"Today, after careful consideration with family, supporters and friends, I have decided not to run for Congress in the 8th Congressional District," the statement, released Wednesday afternoon, reads.
Ruscitti said her campaign "collected over 4,000 petition signatures, signed up hundreds of volunteers and gained the support of dozens of elected officials -- but my role as a leader within the Illinois Republican Party and a desire to avoid a costly primary outweigh my personal political aspirations."
Minutes after Ruscitti's decision became public, the Illinois Republican Party announced she was appointed to co-chair its statewide Victory Program -- a program intended to help GOP candidates get elected.
"The Victory Program was instrumental in my race for Senate, and Darlene is the suburban leader we need to lead our targeted races to victory in 2012," U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said in a statement.
At a "Programa Abuelitas" event at the Lake County Sport Club in Waukegan Wednesday afternoon, Kirk said he'd sensed that since Walsh announced, Ruscitti had been vacillating about a congressional bid, though she continued to hold fundraisers.
Party insiders -- who had originally predicted that Ruscitti's run would fracture support from Illinois delegation members -- said they now expect consolidated support behind Walsh.
In an interview with the Daily Herald, Walsh described Ruscitti as "a great Republican" who would be "a key player in helping the Illinois GOP have a strong year next year."
He said he was looking "forward to working very closely with her to win re-election in the 8th District."
Ruscitti's decision comes days before candidates for Congress are allowed to begin making their campaigns official. They can start filing Friday.
Walsh's decision on where he would run came on short notice, too. After campaigning for months in the newly drawn 14th District against fellow freshman Republican Randy Hultgren, of Winfield, Walsh announced Dec. 7 he would be making an 8th District bid.
Walsh held a sit-down with Ruscitti weeks before that announcement to inform her of his plans. She had declined to comment until Wednesday.