Melissa Bean of Illinois' Eight Congressional District has got to be the luckiest person in politics, unless you count President Barack Obama, for being in the right place at the right time. She defeated long-time Congressman Phil Crane in 2004 after a surprisingly strong initial challenge in 2002, largely, it seemed, simply because voters felt that Crane had overstayed his welcome, despite the fact that IL-8 went with George Bush 58%. Bean then faced a series of somewhat lackluster candidates, self-funder David McSweeney (although Bean only won by 51%) and 'anticipated self-funder' Steve Greenberg.
McSweeney was a nice, earnest guy but never excited on the campaign trail. After seeing him in person several times, his wife clearly outshone him when they appeared together (of course, I'm sure Mrs. Team America would do the same to me in a similar situation). We ought to have nominated Mrs. McSweeney. Steve Greenberg, a businessman and minor league hockey player (where have we heard something similar, perhaps in the basketball arena?), got trounced by Bean after his promises to largely self-fund his campaign never materialized. I think the local GOP has been somewhat wary of so-called 'self-funders' as a solution, ever since.
So what exactly it it with the 8th District anyway? Given the historical right-leaning base of the district, you would think viable candidates would have been coming out of the woodwork to pose a serious challenge to Bean. And, indeed, the primary field in 2010 was rather crowded, with several good candidates such as Maria Rodriguez, Dirk Beveridge, and Chris Giessler. The eventual winner, Joe Walsh, had run for Congress twice before in other districts in the 90s, and in 2010 almost immediately proved himself to be rather flawed, with questions and concerns raised regarding a foreclosure on his Evanston condo, and inter-campaign strife over claims of broken promises and bad checks.
Through all of this, though, Walsh has benefited from a core group of dedicated supporters, many of whom appear to identify with the tea party movement, and who have been very visible in the district. Walsh filled three tables at the recent Lake County Republican Federation Fall Dinner featuring Mitt Romney, and his supporters were clearly the most enthusiastic out of the entire packed room.
So does Walsh have a chance to succeed where others have recently failed, in what is looking to be one of the most favorable environments for Republicans in decades?
Maybe he does.
This morning in the Daily Herald, the DH takes a close look at the dynamics of the campaign, and although it appears so far that the national Democrats have not been scared into spending heavily in the 8th District, Walsh's grass roots campaign does exhibit some markers of a grass-roots surprise brewing for Bean. Walsh is greatly hampered by his inability to raise significant funds, and Bean has about a million bucks more to spend than Walsh going in the final weeks. So, if this race is going to be won by Walsh, it's going to be won by the 'boots on the ground' efforts of his supporters.
The national GOP tried to parachute in during the final weeks of Phil Crane's last election bid as well, when it was clear he was in trouble. Bean reaped the benefits of that surprise, so perhaps it would be some ironic justice if Bean were caught sleeping this time around.
UPDATED: Cal Skinner at the McHenry County Blog has some pretty strong words for the Daily Herald given Melissa Bean's uber-liberal voting record and the Herald's decision to endorse her. Is the DH now looking for some cover, Cal wonders?