Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., has quickly become one of the most recognizable Tea Party freshmen in Congress, making headlines and earning admiration from the right for his withering attacks on Barack Obama, including calling the president a liar and "idiotic."
But in recent weeks a nasty court fight between Walsh and his ex-wife, who alleges that he owes $117,000 in back child support for their three children, has spilled into public view. The story got us wondering: How do Tea Party types who supported Walsh in 2010 feel about the allegations?
So far, they're either withholding judgment or giving Walsh -- who ran on a family values platform -- the benefit of the doubt. His campaign platform spoke of "traditional marriage" and referred to the family as "the core unit which determines the strength of any society."
"To put it bluntly, it's none of my business," said Jerry McDaniel, executive director of the Illinois Conservative Action Network, which endorsed Walsh in 2010. "If he has problems with his ex-wife, I don't know exactly how that would affect his work as a congressman."
"I'm kind of an old man, and I know how divorces go," McDaniel added.
I put the same question to Paul Caprio, director of Family-PAC, the "leading pro-family, anti-tax political action committee in Illinois."
"I think we really have to wait and see. We're confident he'll be able to resolve this issue," said Caprio, whose PAC backed Walsh in 2010. "It's a dispute as I understand it. I understand the children have all received a very good education, and no one has been out on the street."
Caprio added that Family-PAC hosted a fundraising luncheon for Walsh earlier this year. The PAC in March gave Walsh $5,000 to help pay his campaign debt and another $4,750 earmarked for the 2012 primary, federal election fillings (pdf) show.
Because of a Democratic redistricting initiative, Walsh now lives in the same suburban Chicago district as another Republican freshman congressman, Randy Hultgren. So he will likely have to win a GOP primary to retain a seat in Congress.
Another local conservative leader, Lennie Jarratt of the Lake County Tea Party, told me he has not been following the case closely. "We're waiting for the due process to go through," he said. "Depending on the outcome, we'll do what we need to do to educate the voters." The group endorsed Walsh in the GOP primary in 2010.
Laura Walsh's petition to the court in the case, filed in December but not reported in the media until July, alleges that Walsh was stiffing her on child support payments even as he personally loaned his campaign $35,000. She has also alleged that Walsh took vacations to Mexico and Italy with a girlfriend while maintaining to his ex-wife that he was strapped for cash.
Walsh has previously cited "financial troubles" without directly commenting on his ex-wife's allegations. Following a court appearance Wednesday, Walsh attorney Janet Boyle said in a statement that she expects to "fully set forth Rep. Walsh's responses to the allegations of his former wife" by the next scheduled status hearing on Nov. 8.