By Jim EllisOct. 19, 2021 — It had been speculated that the Illinois Democrats were attempting to draw a new congressional map to reduce the state’s Republican contingent from five members to three. The new plan, featuring 17 new districts that twist, turn, and meander throughout the state, appears to accomplish their goal.
Democratic leaders from the House and Senate Redistricting committees defend their actions, saying the plan is “designed to comply with federal law and ensure the broad diversity of the state is reflected in the elected officials sent to represent Illinois in Washington, D.C.” The map must still clear both houses of the Illinois legislature and obtain Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) signature before becoming law but with Democrats holding big partisan majorities, enactment seems certain.
Republicans and even some analytical observers say the map is a blatant partisan gerrymander designed to net the Democrats three seats nationally. Under this plan, 14 at least “lean Democratic” districts are created opposite three Republicans. The current map stands at 13D-5R, but Illinois loses a congressional seat in reapportionment.
Therefore, if the map performs as designed, the Republicans will be down a net three seats nationally because the Democrats would convert two GOP districts while the latter party absorbs the loss of the 18th seat that went to another state.
A potential legal problem, in addition to a political gerrymandering lawsuit, is the lack of drawing a second Hispanic seat in Chicago, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Foundation (MALDEF) is reportedly poised to file suit. As was the case in the last decade, the demographic numbers appear high enough for Hispanics to have two seats within Chicago. Such a second seat was not drawn in 2011, and it is again not created on this map, but the black majority seats are reinforced.
One of the re-draw’s top targets is Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon). His current 16th District is divided into several parts in an effort to sustain the marginal Democratic district that Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) is relinquishing in western Illinois, and help strengthen Rep. Lauren Underwood’s (D-Naperville) district in the Chicago metro area. Under the current map, Underwood won a second term with just a 51-49 percent margin.
The map pairs Kinzinger with freshman Rep. Marie Newman (D-La Grange) in a district that President Biden carried by six percentage points. The seat would obviously favor the Democrats, but not overwhelmingly so. Therefore, this would give Rep. Kinzinger a somewhat competitive opportunity to remain in the House.
For his part, the congressman is indicating he will examine all of his options including those “in and out of the House.” This suggests he could enter the Senate race against incumbent Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D), which would likely be even more of a long shot race than challenging Rep. Newman. This, assuming he could even win a statewide Republican primary when considering his national feud with former President Donald Trump who would be certain to involve himself in a race against Kinzinger.
The downstate portion of the map would include a rural central 16th District pairing Reps. Darrin LaHood (R-Peoria) and Mary Miller (R-Oakland) that would heavily favor the former, but the seat would be safely Republican. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) is placed in a new 15th CD that stretches through half of the state and while it creates almost an entirely new constituency for him, it is a heavily Republican district.
Assuming Rep. Davis prevails in the Republican primary, he would be set in the general election. Same for Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) who would get a new 12th District that encompasses all of the state’s southern sector.
The map also creates two new open seats including one purportedly intended for former Office of Management & Budget official Nikki Budzinski, an announced candidate in the current 13th District against Rep. Davis. The new 13th CD would begin in the Illinois side of the St. Louis suburbs and snake to the northeast through a corridor annexing the cities of Springfield, Decatur, and ending all the way in Champaign. The seat would be play as likely Democratic, though a strong Republican could make it a race in a wave Republican election year.
The other open seat is a new 17th District that would snake from Rockford, through the Quad Cities and Peoria, to its end in Bloomington. This district would also lean Democratic, but a strong Republican could conceivably win in a favorable year for the GOP. This would be the district that Rep. Bustos (D-Moline) would represent, though her retirement likely ignites competitive primary campaigns in both parties.
In an extreme partisan map such as this, often stretching the statewide plan to the max makes certain seats more competitive. Digging below the 2020 presidential numbers it appears that Reps. Sean Casten (D-Downers Grove) and Underwood in Districts 6 and 14, respectively, could face major competition as well as the open 17th despite the map drawers attempting to make them as safely Democratic as possible while simultaneously maximizing the party’s haul.
Along with New York and New Mexico, Illinois is a critically important state in the national redistricting cycle because these are the only three states where the Democrats control and can make net gains. The 2022 Illinois campaigns will be closely watched as under this map certain parts of the state will likely become competitive battlegrounds.