Republicans at the highest level of the state and national party concede they didn't do diddly to financially support the campaign of 8th District Republican Joe Walsh, who now leads incumbent Melissa Bean by more than 300 votes.
But the GOP is now ready to ride in to the rescue, and the help seems much appreciated, given the tightening race and fresh allegations of "ballot shenanigans" leveled by the Walsh campaign. Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady tells NBC Chicago the party has deployed a team of four lawyers and 15 to 20 volunteers to "assist with the monitoring of incoming absentee and provisional ballots."
Brady's GOP-team gives the Walsh campaign a few extra sets of eyes in addition to the half dozen attorneys hired by Walsh - "all specializing in different forms of ballot access, ballot integrity and voter fraud," according to Nick Provenzano, Campaign Manager for Joe Walsh. Provenzano says the campaign has hired former Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner of the powerhouse Chicago law firm, Mayer Brown, to head up the Walsh ballot counting team.
Walsh has already declared victory in the race. He's even announced he's heading to Washington to take part in freshman orientation for newly elected Congressional members. And yet, the Walsh team asserts there's good reason for it to be lawyering up, even though it's up in the ballot counting.
"I'm preparing my client, Mr. Walsh, for any possible outcome," Provenzano said. "I'm not going to go into a gun fight with a knife."
Provenzano says he's concerned about the integrity of uncounted absentee ballots, which must be counted by November 16, in order to be part of the final tally.
He says he's especially troubled that the Bean campaign, on Friday, requested and received from the Cook County Clerk's Office, a list of those voters whose absentee ballots have yet to be returned, including their addresses and phone numbers. Provenzano says the clerk's office informed him of this "irregularity" and realizing its potential mistake, offered the Walsh campaign the same information.
Provenzano says the Illinois GOP has launched an investigation to track down absentee voters in the district with outstanding ballots. He says the team found "enough to be concerned about," and documented its findings in affidavits, which he says were turned over to the FBI, the US Attorney's Office, the State Board of Elections, and the Cook County Clerk's Office. All told, he says his team turned over to law enforcement about 100 affidavits.
NBC Chicago viewed three of the affidavits- the names redacted, Provenzano says- at the request of the Walsh legal team. One affidavit documents a group of ballots sent to the Clearbrook home for the mentally disabled in Rolling Meadows. In another, taken at a home in Palatine, "the voter has not lived at this address for over 15 years." And a third tells the story of when a GOP investigator went to a Schaumburg home to talk to a voter who had requested an absentee ballot, the care giver who answered the door said the voter "could not respond to questions due to dementia."
"We don't really know what's out there, given the extent of the shenanigans that's been identified," Provenzano said.
Cook County Clerk David Orr's office disagrees completely with how the issue has been portrayed by the Walsh campaign.
Courtney Greve, Orr's spokesman says "both campaigns requested the names of absentee ballots not yet turned in" and both campaigns received the list at the same time. ... It was not an irregularity. We don't have phone numbers for voters -- we did not provide them. The list contained the addresses, no phone numbers."
Calling them wouldn't do any good, anyway, Greve said, because ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 1.
"We of course will look into it (if there's something amiss), but haven't yet received any proof of any misconduct," Greve said. "Our office has worked very hard because it is such a close race."
She emphasizes "There is no irregularity, the abesentee voter list is public record for campaigns and political parties -- both received it at exactly the same time on Friday."
At this point, the number of outstanding absentee ballots seems to be a relatively small number and the math suggests Bean needs to catch the political equivalent of a Hail Mary to turn around her fate. Chairman Brady says about 500 ballots are still unaccounted for in Cook County and about 600 in Lake County.
"We're looking pretty good," said Brady noting that Walsh bested Bean by three percentage points in Lake and by 9 in McHenry.
For its part, the Bean campaign suggested this race is far from over.
"Now, more than ever, this race remains too close to call," Gabby Adler, Spokesperson for the Bean Campaign, wrote in a statement given to NBC Chicago. "Congresswoman Bean has made clear that her priority is to ensure responsible counting of ballots so that every vote counts. Representatives of the campaign are observing the verification and counting of ballots to understand the will of the people."