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UPDATED 12/09/11 7:45 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Tea Party star U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) says he will run for reelection next year in the redrawn 8th District, rather than end up in a primary fight against a fellow Republican.
Walsh, who was elected to his first term last year in a district in the north and northwest suburbs, said he’ll run next year in the newly-drawn 8th District, which is closer to Chicago and covers areas more favorable to Democrats than the one he currently represents.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Mitchell reports
When Illinois Democrats redrew the state’s congressional map this year, Walsh was moved into the 14th District, where he would have to challenge another freshman Republican, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.)
Judges threw out a Republican challenge to the map earlier this week. That left Walsh with two options: Battle Hultgren for the Republican nomination, or move to a district that’s closer to Chicago in areas more favorable to Democrats.
After first signaling he would challenge Hultgren in the Illinois 14th District, Walsh said Thursday that he would move to the new 8th District.
At a Tea Party meeting Thursday night at the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville, Walsh said he had consulted family, supporters and party leaders. “Many Republican leaders” had urged him to change districts, he said in an email to supporters.
“While I was encouraged by the enthusiasm I received from folks all across the 14th District, I felt at this time, with this unjust map, I had to stand up and fight,” Walsh said. “The idea of ceding this seat to the Democrats just felt wrong and someone needed to step up to the challenge.”
Walsh said he thought his new home had a “silent majority of voters” who were receptive to his message.
“This decision could not have been clearer for my family and me,” he said. “This is the right move for us and the right move for the people in the 8th District. I will continue to stand up for them in a city where far too often elected officials forget who elected them, and instead focus more on what they need to do to get re-elected.”
Hultgren’s campaign applauded the move.
“By running in the 8th District Congressman Walsh is standing up to Nancy Pelosi and the Springfield Democrats, refusing to simply hand them that seat,” Hultgren spokesman Andrew Flach said in a statement. “We are pleased with his decision and wish him the best of luck.”
Within minutes of his announcement, both of Walsh’s Democratic opponents in the 8th District attacked his ties to conservative causes.
“It’s not about the national race. It’s about getting the votes of the constituents in this district,” Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth said in an interview. “If it’s about gaining leadership in the tea party, Joe Walsh is welcome to go after that.”
Raja Krishnamoorthi, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for Illinois comptroller in 2010, issued a statement criticizing Walsh for his “ideology-driven opposition” of a payroll tax cut. Republicans have opposed adding a millionaires’ surtax to pay for the tax cut extension.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the little-known Republican also running in the district, DuPage County regional schools superintendent Darlene Ruscitti, would step aside. Ruscitti did not return phone messages Thursday.
Walsh defeated Democrat Melissa Bean for the 8th District seat last year, and has catapulted to the national stage with his straight-talk approach, biting rhetoric, and frequent propensity for raising his voice.
But he has also found himself embroiled in a scandal, as his ex-wife, Laura Walsh, accuses him of failing to pay more than $117,000 in child support founds.
Walsh admits he did not pay child support between March 2008 and December 2010, but told the Daily Herald in October that he and his ex-wife had a verbal understanding that they would divide their children’s expenses. He accused his ex-wife of trying to take advantage of his position as a U.S. Congressman.
Walsh also made headlines for skipping President Barack Obama’s speech on job creation in September, and dismissing it as “political theater.”
Walsh also made national headlines this week for his remarks on Twitter after Occupy movement protesters came to his office for a protest as part of the “Take Back the Capitol” effort this week.
“My office was invaded by the Occupy Protesters today & all I saw were $1000 laptops & vomit on the carpet. Thank God for #febreze,” Walsh tweeted Tuesday. Published reports have indicated that one of the protesters actually did throw up on the floor in his office.
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