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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 12/17/2010

Illinois: Democrats' lone redistricting prize is a big one

By Aaron Blake

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This is the fourth in an occasional series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it "Mapping the Future". The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Illinois. (And make sure to check out the first three installments: Texas, Indiana and Georgia.)

When it comes to redistricting, Illinois is Democrats' prize pig. And it might be the biggest prize on the map for either party.

The Democrats control the drawing of the map in only seven states this year. But none of them compare in size or influence to the Land of Lincoln.

In fact, in the other six -- Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Arkansas, West Virginia and Rhode Island -- the Democrats already control 25 of 32 congressional seats. That doesn't leave much room for map expansion.

Illinois is another story. Republicans just won four seats from Democrats this November and now hold an 11-to-8 edge in the state's congressional delegation. That means lots of room for gains for the other guys.

"This is really the one state where Democrats can do something," said David Wasserman, a redistricting expert at the Cook Political Report.

Illinois Republicans are scared. And they should be.

Those who should be most concerned are four new members -- Reps.-elect Joe Walsh, Bob Dold, Bobby Schilling and Adam Kinzinger -- and a member who just won his second term, Rep. Aaron Schock.

Walsh and Dold just won districts in the northern Chicago suburbs/exurbs near the Wisconsin border. And there's plenty of Democratic territory that can be added to both of their districts by drawing in parts of the Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D) 9th district and some of the more Democratic areas of Rep.-elect Randy Hultgren's (R) 14th district.

(Be sure to follow along on the congressional map here and, for a closer look at the Chicago area, here.)

Besides the maneuvering in the Chicago area, the main change will be the likely loss of a district somewhere in the state. This isn't a done deal yet (we'll find out Tuesday when reapportionment data is released by the Census Bureau -- an early Christmas present for political junkies!), but chances are reasonably good the state will drop from 19 districts to 18.

The axed district is expected to come out of the middle of the state, and that would hurt Schock the most, since his Peoria-based 18th district is the most centrally located.

Democrats could pretty easily run Schock out of a district by absorbing his district into the 17th to the west (soon to be held by Schilling), the 11th to the north (held by Kinzinger) and the 19th to the south (held by GOP Rep. John Shimkus).

Democrats could eliminate Schock's district and create a more friendly 17th by adding Democratic-leaning Peoria to the 17th and putting more GOP parts of the 17th and 18th into the 19th to the south, the 11th to the north and Rep. Tim Johnson's (R-Ill.) 15th district to the east. By doing that, two GOP districts suddenly morph into one Democratic-leaning district, while shoring up nearby Republicans.

Indeed, Schilling's 17th district was initially drawn (ahem ... creatively) for Democrats and was a surprising GOP pickup this year. So any further shift toward Democrats would make it very tough for Schilling to hold it. (President Obama won the seat by 15 points in 2008.)

It would also create a very tough situation for Schock, who is from Peoria. He would be faced with a choice between running in his home district against another GOP member of Congress, with a tough road ahead in the general election or potentially having to run in a primary against Kinzinger in a friendlier GOP district. (Wasserman explains the scenario further in a lengthy reapportionment preview today.

Schock and Kinzinger have close ties including sharing some campaign staff. It's hard to see them running against each other, but redistricting can lead to some tough choices.

A source close to Schock said the congressman is "well aware that the state may lose a seat, and Aaron's been preparing for what could and might happen" -- mostly by expanding his profile back home.

Kinzinger gains on the deal by getting a friendlier 11th district and more territory around his home in the Bloomington-Normal area. But those gains could be offset by the prospect of a primary against Schock.

By shifting Kinzinger's district south, Rep. Judy Biggert's (R) GOP-leaning 13th district southwest of Chicago could pick up some Democratic-leaning voters in Kane County and Will County -- both which have added significant population in recent years -- and make her district more marginal.

Adding Will County to Biggert's district could allow outgoing Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D), who lost to Kinzinger this year, to run for Biggert's seat when the 73-year-old congresswoman retires -- or if the Democrat decides to challenge the incumbent outright.

Of all the GOPers in the Chicago area, the two members west of Chicago -- Hultgren and Rep. Peter Roskam -- probably have the least to be concerned about. If Democrats try to pack the other districts with Democratic voters, the Republican areas have to go somewhere, and Roskam and Hultgren's districts are the most logical choices, given their current geographic bases.

All these changes considered, Democrats have a good shot at turning five Republican-held seats (Biggert, Schilling, Schock, Dold and Walsh) into four Democratic ones in the coming years (assuming one of those five districts is eliminated).

Another question for the map-drawers will be what to do with Rep. Luis Gutierrez's (D) C-shaped 4th district in Chicago -- a district that is often compared to a set of earmuffs. The district was drawn that way to incorporate most of the city's Hispanic voters both on the North and South Sides of Chicago, but as the Hispanic population has grown and other ethnicities have dropped off, a case can be made for drawing two separate Hispanic-majority districts.

That, of course, could heavily impact other Chicago members -- specifically, nearby Reps. Dan Lipinski (D) and Mike Quigley (D), who each have between 25 and 30 percent Hispanic districts and could see big changes.

But Rob Paral, a demographic expert at the University of Notre Dame, is skeptical that there is a good way to draw two Hispanic-majority districts. "The Latino population is so dispersed," said Paral, who specializes in Hispanic demography. "It doesn't look like it's there."

Gutierrez is open to the idea. That's important, because member input matters. The last time redistricting came around, members of the congressional delegation hammered out their own map and sent it to the state legislature for approval.

Of course, back then, there was split control of the process. Now, it's controlled by the Democrats, and all-powerful state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) has the power to make or break several members of Congress.

With Democrats poised to bear the brunt of redistricting in so many states this year, they'll have to get their shots in where they can. Unfortunately for them, the opportunities begin and end with basically one state.

Expect an aggressive map.

By Aaron Blake  | December 17, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Mapping the Future, Redistricting  
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