In 2010, GOP candidates for federal office had a banner year in Illinois. The GOP picked up 4 House seats and a U.S. Senate seat in President Obama's adopted home state. State party GOP candidates fared less well, however. The state party picked up a handful of legislative seats and lost the Governor's office to Democrat Pat Quinn, Rod Blagojevich's former running mate. As a result, Democrats controlled all levers for last year's redistricting process. They vowed to use it to reverse the GOP gains in the U.S. House. It isn't working out as planned.
Years of Democrat control have taken a toll on the Land of Lincoln, and the state lost a seat due to weak population growth over the past decade. One GOP incumbent was eliminated through redistricting. Other GOP seats were made much more Democrat, in hopes of knocking off other incumbents. At one time, Democrats dreamed of picking up a net 4-5 seats in the state. The one-sided redistricting process in Illinois was often cited by national Democrats to support their claims that they could win back the House.
The Democrats are aggressively targeting 6 House seats in Illinois. 5 of these are held by Republicans, while the 6th is a down-state district long held by retiring Dem Rep. Jerry Costello. New polls from WeAskAmericac, a pollster that was very accurate in 2010, finds GOP leading in 4 of these races. Only freshman GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling trails, but by less than half-a-percent.
- IL 8 Rep. Joe Walsh (R) 47.8% Tammy Duckworth (D) 45.1%
- IL 10 Rep. Bob Dold (R) 47.2% Brad Scheinder (D) 45.2%
- IL 11 Rep. Juddy Biggert (R) 46.0% Bill Foster (D) 44.3%
- IL 12 Jason Plummer (R) 43.8% Bill Ayert (D) 41.7%
- IL 13 Rodney Davis (R) 43.9% David Gill (D) 41.8%
- IL 17 Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) 45.8% Cheri Bustos (D) 46.1%
All of these races are obviously very close. But they weren't supposed to be. The Democrats explicitly drew district boundaries to give them the edge in all of these districts. They have poured millions of dollars into these races, but with just three weeks left, seem to be coming up short.
Part of the Dems' problems in these districts is that the lines were largely based on Obama's vote totals in 2008. A precinct which voted for Obama in 2008, when he was running for election as a native son of the state, isn't necessarily a reliable Democrat precinct. On paper, most of these districts appear to have Democrat majorities but, since this is based on the 2008 vote, that might not necessarily be the case.
Obama will certainly win Illinois this November. But, he will also certainly trail his vote in 2008. Three of these districts are "downstate," where Obama's popularity has dropped dramatically, even in traditionally Democrat areas. If current polling holds, the GOP may lose the 17th but also pick up the 12th, making the election a wash. Such a result would be a significant setback for Illinois Democrats.
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