Most surprising GOP victory in Illinois?

Tea Party backed candidate Joe Walsh (R) was victorious in the Illinois 8th Congressional District.

Democrat Melissa Bean called Republican Joe Walsh on Tuesday night and conceded the race for Illinois 8th Congressional District after election officials reported that Walsh had a nearly 300-vote lead.

Walsh, a tea-party backed candidate, had 98,115 votes in Cook, Lake and McHenry counties, compared with the three-term incumbent’s 97,825. Tuesday was the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive; provisional ballots were also included in the counts.

Walsh was considered by many to be the longest of longshots.

Certainly the elections of Republican Mark Kirk to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama and those of four new GOP House Members are major political stories from Illinois.

But perhaps the most dramatic story from the Prairie State in 2010 is the one that is nearly—but not just yet—written: the stunning upset of four-term Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in the suburban Chicago 8th District by Joe Walsh, former teacher and social worker and easily one of the most unexpected Republican winners of any race this year.

Having upset the choice of the state and national GOP establishment in the primary, Walsh survived highly personal attacks regarding his personal finances to remain his party’s nominee.  Ignored by national GOPers and dismissed by State Party Chairman Pat Brady, the tireless Walsh mobilized more than 1,300 volunteer workers who rang doorbells throughout the district.  With his campaign unable to afford television advertising, Walsh and his wife accepted nearly any speaking date that came their way and garnered media exposure primarily from talk-radio programs.

Not only was he ignored by the “establishment” they urged him to resign the nomination.  And the true grassroots? They gave Joe their full support.

Having upset “establishment” favorite Maria Rodriguez in the primary, Walsh came under fire for once having had his house in a foreclosure process and for other personal financial troubles.  Amid calls from party leaders that he resign the nomination, Walsh addressed his problems, cited the fact that he had made alimony and child payments while trying to sell his house, and, like others in troubled economic times, had difficulty doing so.  But eventually, he told supporters, he sold the house and resolved most of his difficulties.

Like Richard Nixon after his famous “Checkers” speech in 1952, Walsh’s explanation rallied local supporters and ended the calls of “Joe must go.”  But the state and national GOP never assisted him in the fall campaign.

“No, none of them helped at all,” he told us, “But the local conservative Republicans and the different tea party groups all worked hard going door-to-door and setting up meetings for me.”

The best part of Joe Walsh’s victory?  That his opponents ads likely helped him.

“Her ads said I opposed abortion in all circumstances except one, that I was against gun control, and favored getting rid of the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency—all of which was true,” he said, with a laugh, “and she even ran a pretty good picture of me.  People thought they were my ad.  They came up to me and said ‘I like what you stand for.’”

In the end Congressman-elect Joe Walsh’s victory shows that “we the people” can trump millions in campaign donations in an election.

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