Last week we reviewed the North Carolina congressional political situation, the state where Republicans are best positioned to make multi-seat 2012 election gains. Today, we look at the Democrats’ best potential state – Illinois. Originally designed to swing four or even five seats in the Democrats’ favor, will the map live up to those rather lofty expectations?
ILLINOIS (current delegation: 11R-8D; loses one seat) – Because 2010 was such a Republican year in state legislative races nationally, pressure was on the Democratic legislature and governor to make major gains for their party in redistricting. Illinois is the only big state where Democrats have full control over the process. There is no question that Republicans will take a significant hit in the Land of Lincoln, especially with favorite son Barack Obama again leading the national Democratic ticket, but stretching the swing to five seats may be unrealistic. On the other hand, the Republicans’ limiting their losses to only two is also a major task.
Two-thirds of the 18 seats appear safe for one party or the other, now that the 16th District Republican incumbent pairing has been decided. As you will remember from the March 20 Illinois primary, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger defeated 10-term veteran Don Manzullo. Kinzinger has no Democratic general election opposition.
We’ll focus on key districts that are either “toss ups” or “likely” to go to go one way or the other:
District 8: Rep. Joe Walsh (R) – In addition to Reps. Kinzinger and Manzullo getting difficult redistricting draws, freshman Joe Walsh did so, too. Originally paired with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) in new District 14, Walsh decided his chances of political survival were better by fighting it out in a new Democratic seat than by challenging a fellow Republican for a safe seat. Though one can understand a member wanting to fight against a member of the opposition party rather than his own, Walsh’s task in the new 8th appears daunting.
Facing former Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, who easily won the Democratic primary in March, Walsh must be categorized as a decided underdog. Duckworth, a wounded decorated war veteran, came within three points of defeating Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R) when the much more Republican-leaning 6th District was open in 2006. The outlook here must be rated as: LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
District 10: Rep. Robert Dold (R) – Another freshman Republican incumbent getting a bad draw is Rep. Bob Dold. Though the seat is equal to the previously mentioned 8th District in presidential vote, Mr. Dold at least keeps 61 percent of his current constituency intact. He will face attorney Brad Schneider in the general election. Schneider defeated national liberal activist Ilya Sheyman, who had previously been a moveon.org organizer. The result was a mild surprise as late-race primary polling had projected Sheyman to some rather substantial leads.
Though the numbers craft this seat as a Democratic district, Dold has proven himself to be a very strong candidate and has the ability to win this most difficult race. IL-10 must be rated as a TOSS-UP.
District 11: Rep. Judy Biggert (R) – Seven-term veteran congresswoman Biggert is yet another GOP incumbent with re-election trouble. Though the new 11th CD is Democratic on paper (Obama 61-37 percent), the candidate match-up gives Biggert the advantage in terms of people previously represented. In this race, former 14th District Rep. Bill Foster (D), who was defeated for re-election in 2010, is Biggert’s general election opponent.
While Biggert currently represents 48 percent of the new 11th’s constituents, Foster’s carry-over from his previous seat is only 26 percent. So, while Foster has a clear partisan advantage here, Biggert begins as the more well-known candidate. The 26 percent of the district that is new to both political contestants, the Joliet area, is where this race will be decided. In a presidential year, especially with President Obama on the ticket in Illinois, the partisan advantage is greater than in the mid-term years. Therefore, this race could be categorized as Lean Democratic but, at this point, a TOSS-UP rating is more realistic at least until the general election campaign becomes better defined.
District 12: Rep. Jerry Costello (D) – The retirement of veteran Democratic Rep. Costello gives the GOP an unexpected opening in this southwestern Illinois congressional district. The Obama number here is 55 percent, making it identical with Republican-held District 13, which is discussed below. Ninety-three percent of the territory is consistent with current IL-12 but, without Costello in the race, this Democratic advantage is negated. The Republicans nominated their 2010 lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer for this House seat, and the party chieftains believe they have a legitimate chance at converting the open seat and thwarting the Democratic gain potential. The Democratic nominee is St. Clair County former Regional Schools Superintendent Brad Harriman, who has not before run in a multi-county campaign. This race is one to watch as it develops. The seat was drawn to elect a Democrat, but it is clearly the weakest such seat in the state. Right now, the historical voting trends suggest a Democratic victory, but a TOSS-UP is possible should Plummer catch fire.
District 13: Rep. Tim Johnson (R) – Originally, Reps. Johnson and John Shimkus (R-IL-19) were placed together in new District 15, a safe Republican seat that encompasses southeastern Illinois. When Johnson moved instead into marginal District 13, the pairing problem was resolved and everything looked to be cutting the GOP incumbent’s way for victory in November.
After winning the March 20 primary, however, Rep. Johnson surprisingly decided to discontinue his re-election campaign and retire. The party leaders have now chosen former congressional aide and GOP state party executive director Rodney Davis as the replacement nominee. The Democrats, in a primary election so close that it took several weeks to decide as late overseas ballots could have altered the outcome, chose 2010 nominee David Gill, a physician who twice lost to Johnson. The seat is marginal and both candidates are off to a slow start because of the Johnson retirement and the Democratic primary deadlock. Right now, the race appears to be a toss-up, but headed toward the LEAN REPUBLICAN rating due to overall historical election trends. More must develop here before painting a true picture of this race.
District 17: Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) – Another 2010 upset winner, Republican Bobby Schilling, is also in a difficult re-election situation under the new redistricting map. Though his current western Illinois 17th District went 56-42 percent for President Obama in 2008, the new 17th increases his swing by a net eight points, 60-38 percent. This is principally because the city of Rockford was added to IL-17, bringing it over from the Manzullo-Kinzinger pairing in CD 16. So, what would have been a difficult Schilling re-election scenario under the current lines, is even tougher now.
Rep. Schilling’s general election opponent is East Moline Alderwoman Cherie Bustos, a public relations executive who won an impressive Democratic primary election. With only 46 percent of Schilling’s territory remaining consistent in the new seat, this race will play closer to an open seat than a challenger campaign. With Schilling already proving he can win a tough race with his 2010 upset of Rep. Phil Hare, this race is a difficult one for both sides. This campaign is a pure TOSS-UP.