Absentee ballots narrow gap between Bean, Walsh

Republican Joe Walsh's lead over Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean narrowed to 365 votes Thursday after a count of 809 absentee ballots from the Cook County portion of the 8th Congressional District.

Bean picked up an additional 328 votes for a total of 97,178 Thursday, while Walsh's extra 140 votes brought him to a total of 97,543.

Bean is counting on absentee and provisional ballots to overcome Walsh's slim lead in their race for the 8th District seat she's held since 2004. Walsh was up by 553 votes Thursday morning.

Cook County is the only one of the district's three counties in which Bean received more votes than Walsh on Election Day, according to unofficial results. Absentee ballots in Lake and McHenry counties may remain uncounted until Nov. 16.

Walsh Thursday evening said he was unconcerned about the latest results, which fell much as he expected.

“It's pretty consistent with the few votes we felt we'd lose in Cook County,” Walsh said. “We think we're done now with Cook.”

Bean spokesman Jonathan Lipman said in a statement Friday morning “Today's counting of absentee ballots shrunk the margin by 188 votes...With more than 4,000 ballots potentially outstanding, this race -- more than ever -- remains too close to call.”

Thursday, Lipman said the Bean campaign office is in close contact with the counties and is trying to get a handle on how many absentee and provisional ballots remain in play. He said the indication Thursday morning was at least 4,600, though The Associated Press later reported the figure closer to 3,000 before Thursday's count.

If the 3,000 figure is accurate, Bean would have to capture nearly 60 percent of the total to claim victory.

The AP, which projected a winner in every other Illinois race from the state legislature to the U.S. Senate, is not calling the 8th District race, saying it is too close to declare.

Cook County received 1,218 absentee ballots from throughout the suburbs Thursday, clerk's office spokeswoman Courtney Greve said. Those and the ones that continue to come in will be counted Friday and over the weekend.

Bean received 5,925 more Cook County votes than Walsh on Election Day itself, according to unofficial results.

Lake County Clerk Willard Helander said approximately 2,300 absentee ballots were mailed out to 8th District voters in her county, and more than 1,000 have been returned. But it won't be until Nov. 16 that they are added to Election Day totals, Helander said.

In Lake County, Walsh received 3,138 more votes than Bean, according to unofficial results from Election Day.

Absentee ballots received earlier in the week in McHenry County, where Walsh outpaced Bean by 3,340 votes on Election Day, have already been added to its total. Additional absentee and provisional ballots won't be counted until Nov. 16, County Clerk Katherine Schultz said.

An analysis of Election Day results shows Bean dominated in Cook County's Schaumburg, Palatine and Hanover townships, but Walsh edged her out in Barrington Township and won out most of Lake and McHenry counties. Bean carried all three counties by strong majorities in 2008, when she defeated Republican Steve Greenberg.

McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Michael Tryon believes Bean's change of fortune this year stems not only from the anti-incumbent political climate, but her own actions.

On the day Barack Obama was elected president, both he and Bean carried 55 percent of the voters in strongly Republican McHenry County.

While Tryon accepts that voters were looking for change at that time, he believes Obama and the Democratic Congress went far beyond the type of turnaround people were seeking.

“I don't think people wanted to change the fundamental building blocks of our country,” Tryon said.

He also believes Bean overlooked her own constituency too much in the Democratic groundswell that followed the 2008 elections, behavior that he said carried over into this year's election season.

“I wondered from the beginning, where was Melissa Bean in this campaign?” Tryon asked.

But McHenry County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Bissett said Bean's voting record reflects the district's majority. Efforts to get Democratic voters out in this midterm election just didn't match the energy and intensity of the tea party movement, he said.

He also defended Bean's decision to rarely engage Walsh during the campaign, saying she was not afraid to debate him but faced tea party supporters casting stones at every public appearance.

“Politics is really a game of getting your message out early and your position across,” Bissett said.

Melissa Bean
  Republican attorney Brien Sheahan (left) talks with Brian Neale, Legislative Counsel from Washington D.C., Joe Walsh campaign manager Nick Provenzano and Kristina Hanson, attorney for the Walsh camp, about the absentee ballots being counted in Chicago on Thursday. In the background are members of the Melissa Bean camp. Mark Welsh/
  Boxes of absentee ballots lie on the floor as the counting continued Thursday in the 8th Congressional District race. photos by Mark Welsh/
  Lynnette Elliott from the Cook County clerk’s office hands off a ballot as members of both Melissa Bean’s and Joe Walsh’s camps swarm the table. Mark Welsh/
Joe Walsh