Dem Recruit For LaHood Seat Abruptly Drops Out

The Democrats’ lone recruit in the race for retiring Rep. Ray LaHood’s (R-Ill.) seat has decided to drop out of the race, leaving them without a candidate for a Peoria-based district that the party has viewed as winnable.

Former NBA basketball coach Dick Versace, the Democrats’ only candidate running, announced today that he would be withdrawing for undisclosed personal reasons.

“Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I am announcing my withdrawal as a Democratic candidate for the congressional seat in this district,” Versace said in a statement. “I thank everyone for their support and encouragement in this race, and I ask that you please respect my privacy and that of my family as we face this difficult personal issue.”

His withdrawal raises the possibility that Democrats will be unable to field a candidate on the ballot, as the filing deadline in Illinois already passed (on November 5). Yesterday was the last day candidates could file to be a write-in candidate.

“We’re going to see what the rules are,” said one Democratic staffer.

There have been some instances statewide where a sitting congressman has won his party’s nomination, and later picked a replacement candidate after stepping down from Congress. Former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.) withdrew from the race after winning the nomination in 2004, and local Democratic committeemen chose his son as the successor.

But LaHood announced his retirement plans well before the filing deadline, and it is unclear whether Democrats will be able to replace him on the primary ballot. The primary is scheduled for February 5.

“This could be Chicago-ward politics taking place in Central Illinois,” said an Illinois-based GOP operative. “Whoever comes in will have a cloud on their head hanging over them."