LaHood fouls Versace, taunts Emanuel

On the basketball court, referees could have called a technical foul on Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) for roughing up former NBA coach Dick Versace, now a Democratic candidate for Congress.

Versace, who is seeking LaHood’s central Illinois congressional seat, kicked off his campaign with a press conference on Monday in Springfield, Ill.

“He’s out of his gourd,” LaHood said, adding that Versace’s introduction into campaign politics has given him grist to taunt his friend, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).

“Every day I mention it to Rahm,” LaHood said.

LaHood and Emanuel are friends, but Emanuel, as former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), played a leading role in helping Democrats recapture the House last year. He still helps recruit candidates and plot strategy. 

“Rahm said he is looking for ‘out of the box’ candidates,” LaHood said. “He’s found one.”

In politics, however, there is no recourse for trash talk.

“Ray’s doing what he should be doing,” Emanuel joked when asked about LaHood’s ribbing. “I like [Versace].”

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who caught Versace’s press conference on television in St. Louis, also could not help having a laugh with LaHood at the expense of Versace and Emanuel.

In Peoria, Ill., on Wednesday, Versace held a rally with supporters and spoke out against the Iraq war.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to end this costly war and bring our brave sons and daughters home,” Versace said. “We must end this war now.”

But he “offered little else specific on positions he holds on issues of the day,” according to the Peoria Journal Star.

Versace has vowed to embark on a “listening tour,” touring the district’s 20 counties in a 28-foot motor home called the “Common Sense Express.”

That plan gave LaHood even more ammunition as he wondered aloud to reporters why Versace would not answer questions. He suggested that the Common Sense Express would get only “five miles to the gallon.”        

Pointing to DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who was chatting nearby with another reporter, a reporter asked LaHood whether he was giving Van Hollen a hard time, too.

LaHood said he was saving it all for Emanuel.

“Versace in Congress?” LaHood intoned. “That’s like me coaching Bradley [University] basketball.”