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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.

But before Illinois lawmakers would have to face any residual political effects of the new lines, the map will also quickly bump into legal challenges. Republicans have charged that it’s unfair to the state’s growing Hispanic community, and sources told Roll Call that a lawsuit is already in the works. They argue that there’s ample population for two Latino–majority districts instead of the single district under the two maps.

The Latino population in Illinois outnumbers the black population and continues to grow, according to Paral. However, there are three urban Chicago districts with black populations of more than 50 percent in the new map and just one district with a supermajority Latino population: the district intended for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D).

“Luis is in real good shape,” Paral said. “He’s the only guy in town with a supermajority district. They could have created a Latino-majority district on the south side of Chicago. They would not have been able to create two Latino supermajority [districts], and the other problem is it runs into protecting some of these incumbents.”

Gutierrez criticized GOP efforts to try to draw another Latino-majority district.

“For those who really care and have a demonstrated track record of respecting the Latino community in Illinois, the consensus is that one Latino-majority district is the right number,” he said in a statement. “If on the other hand, you are interested in packing as many Democrats into as few Districts as possible out of your completely fictitious concern for Latino voters, you might start a fight to get two.”

Republican Members were mostly mum over the weekend about their plans under the new map, with the exception of Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who reportedly notified local GOP leaders that he wanted to run in the new 14th district. In response to a request for comment Tuesday, the offices of Illinois GOP Reps. Judy Biggert, Don Manzullo, Peter Roskam, Bobby Schilling and John Shimkus referred to a Friday statement from all of the Republican Members in the Illinois delegation sharply criticizing the new map.

“The map has not even been signed into law. Right now the Congressman’s sole focus is to continue to represent his constituents from his current 8th district,” said Justin Roth, chief of staff to freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R). “This entire process was done behind closed doors, divided communities and lacks proper representation from the Hispanic community, which probably deserves a second seat in Congress.”

Democrats are already moving on to run in the new districts. Ex-Rep. Bill Foster, who lost re-election last cycle to freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren (R), announced Tuesday that he would try to get back to Congress by running in the new 11th district.

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