Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Illinois

Before Republicans self implode over redistricting in Illinois, it is potentially not the great apocalypse for the GOP many envision. The current delegation is 11-8 Republican and come 2013, they may lose a couple seats. Most of the population lost that cost Illinois a House seat occurred in Chicago and should have been worse had not some of that population moved to the suburbs.

First, a look at the old Congressional map with 19 districts shows how absolutely bizarre redistricting was in the past. With several districts concentrated in the Chicago area, Cook County and DeKalb County, the remains have become large chunks of territory that meandered and ejected finger-like projections into neighboring districts to capture ideal population. For example, the old 17th District ran along the Iowa border before morphing into a thin strip when it reached the Missouri border on the state’s western border, then veered eastward into the 19th District. The 15th District is a large one that suddenly snakes along the Indiana border on the east and the 19th District to the west. Although redistricting may potentially disadvantage Republican incumbents in 2012, the new map looks a hell of a lot better, from a contiguous standpoint, than the old map. That is, they look more sensible and logical.

Second, did any rational Republican honestly believe a state government dominated by Democrats would draw a map advantageous to incumbent Republicans? One can cry foul all they want, but to the victor belongs the spoils. However, the attempt to force a second Hispanic majority district in the Chicago area has to be one of the most creative attempts by the GOP in redistricting efforts this year. It was a nice try.

Third, the population of Chicago is spreading into the suburbs and one needs to ask why. It certainly is not for a lack of housing or social services and there have been no major natural disasters such as what happened to decrease the population in New Orleans. It is by choice that people are migrating out of Chicago to the suburbs, if not migrating out of the state altogether. WE can look at this in one of two ways. Either this tendency is liberalizing the suburbs which would create demographic problems for Republicans now and later in the decade, or the suburbs are becoming an oasis for the more conservative or moderate elements of the Chicago population. If that is the case, the Democrats can expect demographic challenges in the future.

Fourth, when one party has an advantage in a congressional delegation and a House seat is lost, assuming no one from the majority party retires, incumbent versus incumbent conflicts are an inevitability. Illinois was just very audacious. As a baseline in Illinois, I think it would be reasonable that the GOP would lose a seat in the delegation. Also, since this is a blue state, an 11-8 split is probably at the upper end of expectations. Anything greater than a two-seat loss in the delegation would be cause for concern in the short term.

There is only one retirement this year- that of Democrat Jerry Costello in the 12th District. Looking at the safe Democratic districts, we see that they are the 1st through 5th, 7th and 9th. The 12th is Costello’s and the only one now not in the greater Chicago area. Several Democrats are lining up for this district while I believe Terri Neumann has a better than even chance for the Republicans. Where these districts get weaker, however, is in the 1st where Bobby Rush’s district now extends into the Chicago suburbs and picks up parts of rural Will County. In the 2nd, incumbent Jesse Jackson, Jr. will face a serious primary challenge from Debbie Halvorson who moves over from the 11th District, plus it picks up Kankakee County and parts of Will County before extending into Chicago. Whether these changes present an opportunity for Republican Jim Taylor remains to be seen, although it is doubtful either Halvorson or Jackson will lose. The 3rd (Dan Lipinski) is safe while the 4th is the Chicago-based Hispanic majority district and the 5th (Mike Quigley) encompasses the very liberal north side of Chicago.

The 6th, which encompasses the western suburbs of Chicago, is represented by Republican Pete Roskam and is safe. The 8th is being vacated by Republican Joe Walsh who will now run in the new 14th leaving the door open for a probable Democratic victory. Originally, this created an opportunity for Melissa Bean to regain this seat, but she passed making the frontrunner Raja Krishnamoorthi, although they may face a primary challenge from Tammy Duckworth. They are both considered more likely choices than any Republican.

The 10th, which includes mostly GOP territory north of Chicago to the Wisconsin border, should see Republican Robert Dold returned to Congress. He currently lives in the 9th District although this should not present any problems and would avoid a likely loss against Jan Schakowsky in that district. The 11th, a bizarre shaped district southwest of Chicago will feature a battle of incumbents. Bill Foster (Democrat) of the neighboring 14th will likely face Judy Biggert who moves over from the 13th. The district is being vacated by Adam Kinzinger who will move to the more Republican friendly 16th District. The money would have to be on Foster as the district picked up the Democratic areas of Joliet and Aurora.

With Costello out in the new southern 12th district, it actually opens an opportunity for a GOP gain, although it will be hard. Judy Biggert vacates the 13th- a huge swath in central Illinois that extends to the Missouri border. Tim Johnson should keep this seat in Republican hands. The new 14th, to the west of Chicago and extending to the Wisconsin border, is represented by Republican Randy Hultgren. However, Walsh leaves the 8th to run here setting up a primary of incumbents. The 15th, comprising the southeast portion of the state, will be retained by Republican John Shimkus. The 16th District, which pulls in the rural counties to the west of Chicago and wraps around from the Wisconsin to the Indiana border, will pit Republican incumbent Dan Manzullo against fellow Republican Adam Kinzinger, who leaves the neighboring (sort of) 11th District.

The 17th was extended into the more Democratic areas of Rockford and Peoria. Bobby Schilling, the current GOP incumbent, will face a tough race in 2012 against any potential Democratic rival- Greg Aguilar, Cheri Bustos, or George Gaulrapp. And the 18th should be a solid Republican victory for incumbent Aaron Schock.

This is one of Obama’s home states and he will win its 20 electoral votes. With approval rates well above the national average, there will be some coat tail effect, especially in the suburban Chicago districts currently held by Republicans. The current split is 11-8 for the GOP. When the dust settles, it should be 9-9, a two seat Republican loss. Given what could have been, it is not as bad as the worst case scenario. The reshuffling that occurred among the GOP candidates created something out of nothing. So the Republicans should just take their hits in 2012 and realize the future looks brighter. But then again, this is Illinois and anything can happen.

Running count thus far:
Obama with 119 votes to 165 for the GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 3 Senate seats;
Net loss of 9 House seats.

Next: Wisconsin