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B-N Could See Crowded Democratic Primary For Its New Illinois House Seat

Karla Bailey-Smith and Tari Renner
WGLT file photos
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Karla Bailey-Smith has said she will run for Illinois' 91st House District in 2022, while Tari Renner said he is considering a bid.

Illinois’ new political maps could lead to a crowded field of Democrats who want to represent Bloomington-Normal next year.

The new Illinois House 91st District would have no incumbent in the race in 2022. The newly-drawn district would include part of Bloomington-Normal along with areas north of Interstate 74 to the west, including Carlock, Goodfield, Washington and East Peoria.

Bloomington-Normal has long been a Republican stronghold in the Illinois legislature, but Democrats believe the new maps put the Twin Cities in play for their party.

Tari Renner, who left Bloomington’s mayor’s office less than two months ago, has said he’s interested in exploring a run for the 91st House seat in the June 2022 Democratic primary.

“I certainly need to do a little bit of soul searching,” Renner said. “This is a pretty substantial commitment. It’s less visible than being a metro mayor.”

Renner, a politics and government professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, previously served three terms on the McLean County Board and won the Democratic congressional nomination in 2004 in a failed bid to unseat then-Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller.

Renner said he believes the district will lean Democratic, which would give the primary winner an advantage in the general election in November 2022. Renner said that is why he is considering a run for higher office.

Renner added having name recognition can be a “double-edged sword,” adding the number of candidates won’t impact his decision to run.

“It would be useful to make that decision, especially if I’m not doing it, because there are others that are interested then they could pursue that as well, and I could help somebody else out if I’m not going to run,” Renner said.

If Renner decides to run, he would have competition. Karla Bailey-Smith of Bloomington said she plans to formally announce her candidacy in October. Bailey-Smith, who owns a painting business, lost in the 88th House District race last year to veteran Republican incumbent Keith Sommer of Morton.

Patrick Cortesi, chair of the McLean County Democratic Party, said two other “high-profile” candidates are exploring bids for the 91st House seat.

“With the primary a year away, I'm sure they are taking their time in making their decisions and laying their groundwork so when they do decide, they can hit the ground running,” Cortesi said.

The Republican who currently represents the 91st district, Mark Luft, doesn’t live within the new district’s boundaries, nor does any other state lawmaker.

Republicans have accused Democrats of unfairly crafting new maps to force GOP incumbents to run against each other and help Democrats grow their majorities in both chambers.

The McLean County GOP did not respond to a request for comment.

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