CHICAGO — The Cubby Bear, a famous bar across the street from the entrance to Wrigley Field, became the center of Illinois politics Thursday night as tea party firebrand Rep. Joe Walsh addressed the Chicago Tax Day Tea Party and announced his re-election plans. He will run again in the Eighth Congressional District, he said, although redistricting has turned it into Democrat-leaning hostile territory.
“I don’t believe that most Americans are mad at Washington because we’re not getting along,” Walsh told TheDC. “I believe that most Americans are mad at Washington because we’re not bold enough in stopping ourselves from falling off this cliff.”
The Illinois legislature, stacked with Democrats and led by the liberal house speaker Michael Madigan, recently redrew its election map in accordance with the 2010 census. As an outspoken conservative, Walsh presented an inviting target to Democrats looking to maximize the impact of redrawn district boundaries.
When the dust settled, Walsh’s own U.S. House seat was in an 8th District suddenly weighted toward Democrats. But his home and much of his existing district landed in the 14th District, which is currently represented by Republican Randy Hultgren. Walsh announced in September that he planned to challenge Hultgren, but local media soon reported that he was having second thoughts.
By choosing to run in the redrawn 8th District, Walsh avoided a Republican-on-Republican fight. But he also made his own re-election dramatically more difficult.
Still, Walsh said he was ready for the challenge, “It just didn’t feel right to me,” he told a packed room of tea party activists on Thursday night, “to stay out in the 14th, in a nice safe Republican district, [and] take on another Republican in the primary when the Democrats have drawn an eighth district, my old district, my current district, and reconfigured it to be very Democratic. We Republicans are gonna just let that go. It didn’t feel right.”
After his speech, Walsh told TheDC that his uncompromising economic messages would resonate with the independent voters who may decide his political future.
“I think independents are scared to death because a lot of them are not working,” Walsh said. “They understand the reason they’re not working is because we have a government that’s suffocating them. A lot of independents are smarter than the average bear.”
His tea party audience on Thursday, Walsh said, understood the stakes of the 2012 election.
“It’s a movement of people that is scared to death of the size of government,” he told TheDC. “It’s a movement of people that is ashamed by the size of our debt.”
Asked about the tea party’s reputation as an inflexible movement, Walsh said compromise could come “down the road … but we are at the beginning of this revolution. You don’t compromise at the beginning of a revolution.”
Walsh took questions from the audience after his speech, including one about his preferred course for addressing the future of the Federal Reserve.
“Two words,” he responded. “Ron Paul.”
Texas GOP Rep. Paul, the libertarian leaning presidential candidate, has been an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve and has made repeated calls for its abolition his personal calling card. While Walsh cautioned that eliminating the Fed was probably not a realistic short-term goal, he was hopeful that Congress could pass legislation forcing an audit of the central bank.
First, he said, “there needs to be more education among the American people about what the Fed does before anyone in Congress can embark on any ground-breaking policy.”
While Walsh’s risky move to run again in the 8th District took some by surprise, the decision was generally cheered. Chicago conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston told TheDC that he encouraged Walsh to make that decision.
“It was my personal advice,” Huston explained. “I said, ‘Joe, you need to run in the 8th. You’ve got the possibility of running against both of your most hated constituents: the GOP establishment and the Democrats. Because you know the GOP establishment won’t support you in the 8th but they wouldn’t have supported you in the 14th. You’d be knocking out another good Republican [Hultgren].”
While Walsh will have to fight for every vote to return to Congress after 2012, he has a cadre of devoted followers.
“I remember going to a Second Amendment tea party event out there in McHenry [County] when he was running,” explained Paul Murphy, one such devoted constituent. “The energy there told me he has a lot of support from freedom loving people.”
Walsh also addressed the growing scandal surrounding allegations that he has failed to make more than $100,000 in required child-support payments.
“I am fighting this issue legally and privately,” he said sharply, responding to a question about the hypocrisy of demanding fiscal responsibility while not practicing it.
“It’s wrong. It’s one hundred percent false. I’ve been a loving devoted father my entire life. The personal situation is a bunch of hooey and that’s why I’m fighting.”