Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, who has emerged as perhaps the most high-profile tea party freshman in the House, will seek reelection in a new district that will likely pit him against another Republican in a primary.

Walsh announced the decision in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday, opting for Illinois’ newly drawn 14th district over the 8th, which he currently represents. Under an aggressive Democratic redistricting plan, Walsh’s home was drawn into the more-Republican 14th with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), but the Democratic-leaning 8th contains much of his current territory.

“If the Democrat map stands, I will be running in what is the new 14th district...” Walsh said. “I live in McHenry and my current district office is in northern Lake County. This area is home.”

Walsh said it was “unfortunate” that he may have to face another Republican incumbent in the primary. But while praising Hultgren as a ”good conservative,” he also began to differentiate himself.

“There are also healthy differences between the two of us, we’ve both had a very different initial tenure in Washington, and the voters in the new district will decide which one of us will best be their voice in D.C.,” Walsh wrote.

In a statement, Hultgren said he was “disappointed” that Walsh would choose to “abandon his district.”

“By doing so, he’s playing into the hands of the Springfield Democrats and Nancy Pelosi, who have drawn the congressional map for Illinois specifically to encourage just such a contest,” Hultgren said.

A recent analysis by the Smart Politics team at the University of Minnesota of transcripts from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR showed Walsh garnering the second-most mentions on TV of any freshman so far, behind only Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.).

The coverage, of course, has cut both ways. Recent stories have focused on Walsh’s ex-wife alleging that he owes $100,000 in back child support — an issue that would surely be fair game for Hultgren’s camp.

The matchup with Hultgren should be an interesting one. While Walsh was entirely unheralded and one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 wave, Hultgren defeated a primary opponent with more establishment backing in Ethan Hastert, the son of former House speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Walsh’s move assures that Democrats will be favored to take the 8th district, where former Veterans Affairs official Tammy Duckworth and businessman Raja Krishnamoorthi are both attracting high-profile support for what is expected to be a pitched primary campaign.

The Walsh-Hultgren matchup is just the latest incumbent-versus-incumbent race to come out of the 2011 round of redistricting. Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) will face off in Iowa; Reps. Steve Austria (R) and Mike Turner (R) are likely to face each other and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) is expected to challenge another incumbent in Ohio; Rep. Charles Boustany (R) and Jeff Landry (R) are headed for a matchup in Lousiana; and a few pairs of incumbents are expected to challenge each other in California.


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