Q: Who’s Running Against Hastert in Illinois? A: 32-Year Old Vet with Intelligence Credentials You Say?

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Our own Josh Harkinson has just put up a story about John Laech, the 32-year-old vet who’s running against the embattled Denny Hastert. The NYT has its doubts that he can make a real run this late in the game, but on the other hand, he seems like the perfect candiate for the moment. As Josh writes:

Looking for adventure and a challenge, Laesch joined the Navy in 1995 and rose to a post in Bahrain as an intelligence analyst. His job included monitoring video footage from Iran. At the time, a popular parade route in Iran had been painted with American and Israeli flags so that soldiers could trample them when they marched past. But after Iran’s moderate president Mohammad Khatami came to power, Laesch noticed the flags were removed. He saw the move as an opportunity for rapprochement which was later dashed when President Bush dubbed the country part of the Axis of Evil. “Our actions create an equal and opposite reaction on their side,” he says. “And this is why terrorism is growing.”

Honorably discharged in 1999, Laesch studied history and political science at Illinois State University and was drawn to politics. In 2004 he talked with men who worked at a Maytag factory that was shuttering in the town of Galesburg and moving to Mexico. “That bothered me,” he says. That year Laesch managed the congressional race of Democrat David Gill, a doctor running for the 15th district of Illinois on a health care platform. He felt under qualified for the job, but even so, Gill turned in a strong showing. The next year, when Laesch’s brother, Pete, was sent to Iraq a week after his wife gave birth to a child, the munitions sergeant urged his brother to run against Hastert. “It hadn’t even realistically crossed my mind,” Leasch says, “But when Pete got his orders to Iraq, I said, ‘I’m gonna do it.'”

tLike many “fighting democrats,” Laesch believes the U.S. needs to set a imetable to withdraw from Iraq—arguing that a widespread belief among Iraqis that U.S. forces are on an imperialist mission is fueling the insurgency. He also wants to see a wider peacekeeping role for the United Nations and the Arab league, but doubts the Bush administration possesses the diplomatic resources to pull it off.

Anti-war, anti-pedophilia sentiment isn’t the only thing going for Laesch in Illinois District 14. Locally, he says, Republicans have been less outraged by the sex scandal than revelations that Hastert used a federal road project to pad his bank account. A former high school wrestling coach who entered politics a man of modest means, Hastert personally earmarked the highway bill last year with $207 million for the Prairie Parkway, a road that serves about as little purpose as its name implies, many locals say, but which will run within a few miles of land Hastert bought in 2002 near Plano, Illinois. Hastert and his business partners then sold the land to a developer, netting a cool $1.8 million.

And I’m not even reprising Laesch’s time in Africa…

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