THE race for the House seat in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District gives an answer to the midterm election. It’s a Republican leaning district. But three term Congresswoman Melissa Bean was considered to be a shoo-in.
The 8th District is a mixed suburban and rural district that sprawls over three counties 30 to 60 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. To add to her incumbency, Bean had the support of the entire Chicago area media, plenty of money and a strong rapport with the area’s business community.
By contrast her Republican opponent, Joe Walsh, was labeled as a Tea Party extremist. He had no support from the Republican Party, no media support, little money and no name recognition. His strength was a core of Tea Party activists who mounted an arduous grassroots campaign for him.
After two weeks, Walsh won by a scant 291 vote margin out of nearly 196,000 votes cast. It was the closest Congressional race in the nation and one of the election’s biggest upsets.
So, what went wrong for Melissa Bean?
First, Bean didn’t commit on the health care bill until the night of the vote when she finally joined the Democratic majority. Also, while others held town hall meetings on health care during the summer of 2009, Bean refused to do so.
Then, she finally held a meeting in a busy supermarket. Not only was it inconvenient for the store’s shoppers, but Bean didn’t even show up for her own meeting because of a family member’s illness.
Second, instead of campaigning on her record as a three term incumbent, Bean launched a campaign of attack ads against Walsh. Not only did Bean’s ads upset voters who might have supported her, they gave Walsh the media attention that he so desperately needed. In addition to giving him a name and a face, these ads also defined Walsh’s positions and thereby helped to define his candidacy.
Third, Bean at first refused to debate Walsh, and then agreed to one debate. But this debate was held well after Bean’s attack ads had already made Walsh known. So instead of Bean’s supporters being at the debate, Walsh’s Tea Party activists were predominant.
In conceding, Bean was very gracious, and I hope she stays politically active. But in the meantime, I hope she becomes smarter about politics and campaigning.
At least, I hope she’s learned that holding a meeting in a busy supermarket doesn’t exactly do the trick.
Hawthorn Woods, Illinois
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