Political scientist says congressional maps shift for Bloomington-Normal may help Democrats keep a vulnerable seat
Illinois lawmakers are expected to hold hearings this week on the congressional map Illinois Democrats presented last week.
A political scientist says the map is “almost comically” drawn and will most likely face a legal challenge.
The map could mean big changes for Bloomington-Normal's representation in Congress.
A big chunk of the Twin Cities would be included in a district that leans Democratic. The proposed 17th congressional district stretches along Interstate 74 from Bloomington-Normal, through Peoria, to the Quad Cities and goes all the way to Rockford.
John Shaw is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He said Democrats likely crafted the maps this way to defend a seat that may be vulnerable to a Republican challenge. Shaw noted incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos isn't seeking re-election and won a close race for that seat last year, defeating Republican Esther Joy King by just four points.
“I think they were worried enough about what a tough election Bustos had that they are trying to bring in some more Democratic votes,” Shaw said. “I think this was sort of an incumbent rescue plan.”
Illinois Democrats hold a 13-5 advantage over Republicans in Congress, but many political experts project a potential Republican takeover of Congress next year. The party in the White House typically loses congressional seats in off-year elections and Democrats hold a slim eight-seat majority.
Shaw said Democrats see Illinois as a chance to take at least two Republican seats, adding, “2022 might be a tough year for Democrats and I think they are not taking anything for granted.”
Illinois also loses one congressional district due to its population loss over the last decade.
Currently, Bloomington-Normal is represented by Republicans Rodney Davis and Darin LaHood in the U.S. House. The proposed map forces a GOP primary election between incumbents LaHood and Mary Miller, who currently represents the 15th District.
Shaw said the map also is an indication Democrats have given up on trying to unseat Davis. The four-term Republican has won several closes races the national Democratic party had targeted as winnable.
“I think they finally said they have other battles to fight and let him go for another decade or so,” Shaw said.
Davis, whose district would no longer include Bloomington-Normal under the proposed map, has said the maps would weigh heavily on his political future. He has been named as a potential candidate for Illinois governor next year.
Republicans have blasted the map-making process as unfair, citing Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s earlier pledge to veto any map drawn by legislators or political parties.
Shaw said he expects Republicans will “certainly” challenge the proposed map in court if it becomes law, adding the map probably will fuel more talk for a less partisan way to draw congressional districts.
“Every decade or so, there’s an expression of disappointment, frustration, even anger at the process. This exercise will not quiet that and I suspect it may even give an impetus for yet another effort to put together a system with an independent commission,” he said.