By Jim Ellis
Oct. 27, 2021 — A legal setback in court at the end of last week over the Illinois state legislative maps has apparently been part of the reason the Democratic leadership issued a new congressional map this Monday. The changes are very significant leading to three sets of incumbent pairings.
The overall partisan goal of creating a 14D-3R map from the current 13D-5R map looks on paper to be achieved, at least using the 2020 presidential race as a benchmark. The statisticians at Dave’s Redistricting App released their quick calculations to support the partisan division, but in previous data sets we saw the underlying races trending more Republican in some districts than the presidential race alone would have suggested.
Under this supposition, thinking the underlying races may show greater Republican strength when they are fully calculated, the new Illinois map may be a bit more competitive than meets the eye.
The big change is the creation of a second Hispanic plurality open seat in Chicago. The Mexican American Legal Defense Foundation was preparing to file suit on the first plan charging that, among other points and for the second time in two decades, the legislature bypassed the opportunity of drawing a second Hispanic seat in the city even though the numbers were clearly supporting such an addition. The various pressure points caused the leadership to draw a new map containing the second Hispanic district.
This draw causes a Democratic incumbent pairing in Chicago. Freshman Rep. Marie Newman (D-La Grange), who defeated former Rep. Dan Lipinski in the 2020 Democratic primary, would be placed in the same district as second-term Rep. Sean Casten (D-Downers Grove). Originally, Rep. Newman was paired with GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon) in a general election battle that would have favored her.
This new 6th District is one of the seats that could play a bit more competitive than the 55-43 percent Biden-Trump result last November yields. Certainly, the pairing winner, and Rep. Casten is at least considered the early favorite, would have a big advantage in the general election. A strong Republican candidate and a wave GOP election could make even the general election in this district interesting.
The second pairing would involve two Republicans, Reps. Kinzinger and Darrin LaHood (R-Peoria) in a monstrosity district that would stretch from the Wisconsin border through winding twists and turns that finally end in the middle of the state (see map at top). The seat would be solidly Republican, but LaHood and Kinzinger would have to fight through a Republican primary to determine whose career would continue.
The early favorite here would be Rep. LaHood. Technically, Rep. Kinzinger’s home was even placed in Rep. Bobby Rush’s (R-Chicago) majority minority district, but if he seeks re-election it would likely be in this new rambling 16th CD and an intra-party primary challenge with LaHood.
The third pairing, again involving two Republican members, would occur between four-term Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) and freshman Rep. Mary Miller (R-Oakland). This new 12th District would occupy all of southern Illinois. In the previous map, Miller was paired with LaHood in a district that contained little of her current seat.
Against Bost, however, much of her current 15th District lies here, so her chances of winning a Republican primary against this incumbent are much better. Since the district contains more of Rep. Bost’s current CD, he would be the favorite, but Rep. Miller appears to have a fighting chance to win a second term.
Continuing on the Republican side, it’s possible that Rep. Rodney Davis’ (R-Taylorville) ploy early in the redistricting process may have worked. Rep. Davis came to the capital city of Springfield to survey the redistricting situation and indicated publicly that he would run statewide, likely against Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), if his district became eviscerated in subsequent map drawing.
Whether or not this factored into possibly the governor working behind the scenes to help Rep. Davis, who would be a formidable gubernatorial candidate despite Illinois’ heavily Democratic voting history, may or may not be the case, but on this map, the five-term GOP incumbent becomes the big winner. Though his district almost wholly changes, he would have a safely Republican seat and his main effort would be expended in winning the GOP primary.
The map would also create three new open seats. The politically marginal 17th District from which Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) is retiring, gets more Democratic, but also snakes from Rockford through the Quad Cities, to Galesburg, Peoria, and Bloomington. A new Democratic 13th District is created from Rep. Davis’ current core population anchor in a seat that stretches from Champaign through Decatur and Springfield before ending in the Illinois side of the St. Louis suburbs. This is intended to give former Obama Administration official Nikki Budzinski a strong shot of winning a congressional seat.
There is no doubt that this Illinois map is a severe Democratic gerrymander. Since Illinois is one of only four states where Democrats control and can make significant congressional gains, national pressure was heavy to draw the maximum map. Whether this holds up through legal challenges and a competitive election cycle remains an unanswered question.