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Democrats’ New Illinois Map May Not Withstand Time

Illinois Democratic lawmakers passed an ambitious and aggressive new Congressional map Tuesday that seeks to put up to five current GOP seats into Democratic hands next year.

But the new map might not easily stand the test of time.

If Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signs the approved map into law as expected, some current and future Democratic Members will have to deal with both demographic and partisan shifts that will likely make some of their districts more competitive in future cycles.

“It may be a 2011, 2012, 2013 map, but it doesn’t look like a 2015 map,” said Rob Paral, a nonpartisan Illinois demographics expert.

Democratic state lawmakers passed a map that carved up much of the Chicago suburbs, displacing several GOP incumbents by moving them into the same districts as their Republican colleagues or putting them into heavily Democratic districts that would be nearly impossible for them to win. In the process, three new Democratic districts were drawn in the Chicago suburbs with no incumbent and intended for new Democratic challengers — some of whom had already announced their bids before the map was released.

Although these seats will likely yield gains for Democrats in 2012, when their native son President Barack Obama is on the ticket, the new districts will only get more competitive down the line.

In particular, the newly drawn 8th, 10th and 11th districts were intended to be opportunities for new Democratic candidates to win seats currently held by freshman GOP Members. But tabulated data obtained by Roll Call suggests the districts might be swing territory — or at least not as solidly Democratic as initially suggested.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who was elected by a slim 2-point margin in November, received 51 percent, 54 percent and 49 percent in the 8th, 10th and 11th districts, respectively, according to the data.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) performed terribly against Obama in those three districts in 2008, garnering less than 40 percent in each of those districts at the time, but in 2004, then-President George W. Bush received 49 percent of the vote in the 8th, 46 percent in the 10th district and 49 percent in the 11th district.

Similarly, the new 17th district in the northwestern corner of the state that includes freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling’s (R) home was drawn to be a Democratic district, but Kirk also won that district by a slim margin. Twelve-term Rep. Jerry Costello, the Democratic dean of the delegation, was given a marginally Democratic district for which both parties will compete if he retires in the next decade.

Almost immediately after the new map was released, House Republicans drew comparisons to their own redistricting efforts a decade ago in Pennsylvania. In an effort to make the most of every Republican vote, Keystone State lawmakers carved up southeastern Pennsylvania into new districts intended for GOP Reps. Jim Gerlach and Charlie Dent and to deliver GOP seats to incumbents in other districts.

But over the past five cycles, Republicans have spent millions in the pricey Philadelphia media market trying to hold on to the Gerlach and Dent seats, and the 7th and 8th districts have changed party hands a couple of times in similarly expensive races. The situation is often cited as a prime example of “dummymandering,” a term used by redistricting experts to describe when lawmakers attempt to gerrymander districts but it backfires.

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