In their initial two debates, Congressman Joe Walsh and Tammy Duckworth had only one another to spar with before a moderator and a set of cameras.
But a third variable Tuesday -- a boisterous crowd free to purchase liquor throughout the night -- fueled the heated, vitriolic two-hour match between the two candidates in the nationally watched race, and helped make sure nothing was left off the table.
Walsh, the prolific McHenry Tea Partyer, attacked everything from his opponent's fashion decisions -- waving a picture of the Hoffman Estates Democrat shopping for a Democratic National Convention outfit -- to the influence top party advisers have lent to her campaign, calling her anecdotes talking points "that don't amount to a hill of beans."
Duckworth, in turn, described Walsh as "what was wrong with Washington," suggesting he has spent his two years in Congress solely serving the Tea Party -- something, she said, that's "not good enough."
The event, hosted and broadcast by 560 WIND AM and WCPT 820 AM, was moderated by Roosevelt University Political Science Professor Paul Green, with WIND's Steve Cochran and WCPT's Dick Kay asking questions.
Duckworth and Walsh were positioned wide apart onstage at the Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows. That arrangement appeared to bolster Duckworth, who had, at times, previously looked physically uncomfortable when near Walsh, who once physically poked her during last month's Fox News debate.
Walsh cut at Duckworth for driving a campaign vehicle to a political event in 2008, and for a wrongful termination lawsuit from two former employees when she was the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. Walsh supporters distributed copies of the suits to the crowd.
"This is what Walsh does," said Duckworth, who later described suits as "common to a head of any agency." "He tries to distract from the issues at hand. If you want to make this about finance and being sued by former employees we can talk about the fact that you were sued by your former campaign manager for not paying his salary," she charged.
Duckworth maintained that she would put an emphasis on compromise in Washington if elected.
Walsh, who has made headlines for his repeated votes against the country's debt ceiling extension, says his work in Washington has "helped educate the American people" who previously had no idea what the debt ceiling was.
"I'm glad we're fighting right now," he said of Republicans and Democrats.
The election presents a clear choice for voters in the 8th Congressional District, which is roughly centered in Schaumburg and including portions of Kane, Cook and DuPage counties. The candidates clashed on everything from government entitlement programs how to end the war in Afghanistan to changes in the tax code and voter identification laws.
Chicago Prime Steakhouse in Schaumburg -- where Walsh and Duckworth had met, separately, with area business owners -- became a talking point for both candidates over how to reform health care. Walsh challenged Duckworth to sit down with owners together to ask "what they'd like to do with Obamacare." If the restaurant owners said they would keep the controversial legislation in place, he said, he'd personally donate $2,500 to her campaign.
Duckworth dismissed the bet as "classic Joe Walsh grandstanding."
Walsh's continued efforts to engage Duckworth in public bring back shades of his successful come-from-nowhere campaign against three-term Democrat Melissa Bean of Barrington. Like Bean, Duckworth's response to Walsh's campaign mainly has been to stay above the fray and not engage him, share her platform or further elevate his visibility.
The candidates' final debate will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 on WTTW-11.