Republican Representative Joe Walsh and Democratic nominee Tammy Duckworth are currently locked in a contentious battle for the House of Representatives. Walsh will be trying to retain his seat in Illinois' 8th congressional district-- a seat he won by the narrowest of margins in 2010. As it was two years ago, the independent vote is critical for Joe Walsh in Illinois.
Out of 200,000 ballots cast, Walsh propelled himself to victory in 2010 over Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean by only 291 votes. The victory was considered a major upset over Bean, who had won the seat in 2005. Walsh was one of many Tea Party victors in the Republican surge of 2010, which relinquished Democratic control of the House of Representatives.
In 2010, 4 in 10 Tea-Partiers identified themselves as either Democrats or independents. As of April 2012, however, there has been a “sharp increase” of unfavorable views towards the Tea Party among independents. Independent women, in particular, are less enthused about the Tea Party as they were two years ago, as Scott Clement explains:
"There’s also been a sharp increase among both independent and Republican women in the percentages saying that the more they hear about the tea party the less they like it. In 2010, a plurality of independent women said they liked the movement increasingly as they learned more; today, they say they like it less by 2 to 1."
Such a decline of support could be detrimental for Walsh. As is the case in Wisconsin between former Governor Tommy Thompson and Representative Tammy Baldwin, the independent vote could loom large in the Midwest-- critical in not only a swing state like Wisconsin, but also in a heavily Democratic state as Illinois.
After a tumultuous congressional term, it will be interesting to see which way the state will go this year. Will independents indict President Obama and/or House Democrats for the partisan gridlock exhibited in the debt-ceiling debate and Standard and Poor’s downgrading of America’s credit from AAA to AA? Or will the brunt of their frustration fall upon Republicans? Will the gains made by Republicans in 2010 be reversed without a strong base of Tea Party and independent voters?
Duckworth currently holds a 14 point lead over incumbent Walsh. In addition to this race, there are five other congressional districts up for grabs in the state-- three of which are currently controlled by Republicans, and two open seats.