Everyone in Illinois breathed out last night -- Democrats sighed relief, Republicans sighed disappointment -- as former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka announced in front of his restaurant that he was no longer planning to run for U.S. Senate as the GOP nominee.
As we all suspected, it was the potential of the media dredging up his past that made him pause.
"I had so many phone calls, I didn't know what was going on. It's just that I'm not used to that since I got out of coaching. I'm not used to the scrutiny, and I don't know if I would handle it well or not.
"I don't know how I would react under scrutiny. I don't know how I would react on the Senate floor if I got in a confrontation with somebody I really didn't appreciate -- or maybe didn't appreciate me."
Probably wiping sweat from his brow as he said it, Democratic Senate Nominee Barack Obama was gracious, "He would have been a formidable opponent. I was looking forward to a wild and wooly campaign."
Illinois GOP are in big trouble with few remaining choices: Jim Oberweis, the dairy magnate that came off like an anti-immigrant crazy during the primary, and the unknown Andrea Grubb Barthwell, former Bush Adminstration deputy drug czar.
But worse yet for the Illinois GOP, because Bush has essentially conceeded Illinois to Kerry (don't expect any Presidential visits before November), and no Senate candidate, Republicans are unlikely to be drawn to the polls in November. That means lots of state house and senate races, as well as some Congressional races are now in jeopardy. One race in particular, Rep. Phil Crane vs. second-time Democratic challenger Melissa Bean in the Northwest Suburbs becomes a serious concern for the GOP if their base voters don't turn out.