What’s a dummymander? Illinois may tell us

Democrats reach for gains but could be exposed in midterms

The new 6th District seat that Illinois Democratic Rep. Sean Casten is defending would have gone for President Joe Biden by 11 points, but it could be in striking distance in a Republican wave in November, analyst Nathan L. Gonzales says. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The new 6th District seat that Illinois Democratic Rep. Sean Casten is defending would have gone for President Joe Biden by 11 points, but it could be in striking distance in a Republican wave in November, analyst Nathan L. Gonzales says. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 1, 2022 at 1:36pm

ANALYSIS — With full control of the redistricting process in Illinois, Democrats designed a map that would take Republicans from five members of the delegation to just three. But the races may play out differently in 2022. 

In trying to maximize their gains in the Land of Lincoln, Democrats may have stretched themselves too thin, leaving the party vulnerable to unintended losses, particularly in a cycle trending toward Republicans with an unpopular Democratic president in the White House. 

Democrats had a 13 to 5 advantage in the congressional delegation coming into the cycle, with Illinois losing one seat through reapportionment. If all the races go as planned by Democrats, they’ll start the next Congress with 14 members, compared to three Republicans. That would be a small step to helping Democrats maintain their slim majority nationwide, since Republicans need a net gain of just five seats for a majority.

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

Competitive races in the 6th, 13th, 14th, and 17th districts will decide whether Democrats drew a successful gerrymander, or a so-called dummymander, a map that benefits the party it was intended to hurt. In a great GOP cycle, Republicans could end up with one more seat from Illinois than they started with. 

Beyond the four competitive races, there’s a quartet of consequential races rated Solid Democratic or Solid Republican.

Democratic primaries on June 28 will essentially decide who comes to Capitol Hill from the 1st District (where Rep. Bobby L. Rush is not seeking reelection) and the 3rd District (which is essentially a new district that is primed for a Hispanic candidate). Rep. Danny K. Davis faces Kina Collins, who is backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, in the 7th District primary. He won their 2020 matchup by nearly 48 points. President Joe Biden would have won all three Chicago-area seats with at least 70 percent in 2020.

The Republican primary will be decisive in the 15th District, where GOP Reps. Mary Miller and Rodney Davis are facing off. Former President Donald Trump would have won the seat with 68 percent, so it’s not at risk of a Democratic takeover. Davis is trying to paint Miller as a carpetbagger, considering she lives just outside the district. But Miller currently represents slightly more of the new district than Davis, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Davis is regarded as being a stronger member and candidate (he had $1.2 million in the bank on Dec. 31 compared to $415,000 for Miller). But Miller has Trump’s endorsement and support from Club for Growth for this race.

Here are the four races rated as initially competitive:

6th District (Sean Casten, D; Marie Newman, D)

Typically, incumbents end up running against each other in a primary because the opposite party or a commission effectively forced their hands. That’s not the case in Illinois and in this district, where Newman and Casten are facing off.  

By geography, Newman currently represents 43 percent of the new 6th compared to 24 percent from Casten’s current district, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. And Newman has a progressive profile that could resonate with more primary voters. But Newman is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly offering a job to a potential political opponent to keep him from running against her in 2020, when she ousted incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in the primary. 

The Democratic nominee will start with the advantage in the general election, as Biden would have won the district by 11 points. That puts it within striking distance for Republicans, however, if they can recreate their performance from the 2021 gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. Keith Pekau, the mayor of suburban Orland Park, is the top GOP fundraiser, though Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso has some local endorsements. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

13th District (Open; Rodney Davis, R)

Democrats redrew this district to be significantly more Democratic, pushing Davis to run in the 15th District. Considering Biden would have won the seat with 54 percent, the Democratic primary is critical because the nominee will start the general election with the advantage. 

The Democratic front-runner is Nikki Budzinski. The labor activist and former executive in the Office of Management and Budget had $730,000 in the bank on Dec. 31. On the Republican side, candidates include Jesse Reising, a former DOJ prosecutor and current partner at Kirkland & Ellis, philanthropist Regan Deering  and others. The 13th was designed to be a Democratic pickup, but Republicans could hold it under the right conditions. Initial rating: Lean Democratic.

14th District (Lauren Underwood, D)

Underwood won reelection by just more than 1 point in 2020 in a closer-than-expected race against Republican Jim Oberweis. This newly drawn district would have voted for Biden by 12 points, but Republicans believe they can win with the wind at their backs. They don’t have a breakaway challenger yet. No Republican had more than $100,000 in the bank at the end of the year, compared to the congresswoman’s $2 million. If there’s a stellar GOP recruit still waiting on the sidelines, they have until March 14 to jump in. This is a good district to watch for the size of a GOP wave because it’s a seat Democrats would win under normal circumstances. Initial rating: Lean Democratic.

17th District (Open; Cheri Bustos, D)

Bustos, a former chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, faced down a competitive challenge in 2020 and decided not to seek reelection in 2022. Real estate attorney and Army Reserve Capt. Esther Joy King, the Republican who came within 4 points of winning last cycle, is running again. She had $1.1 million in the bank on Dec. 31 and is the likely GOP nominee. 

Without Bustos, Democrats have a competitive primary. Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann, an Afghanistan veteran with $45,000 cash on hand at the end of the year, looks like the candidate to watch. But former state Rep. Litesa Wallace ($39,000 cash), Rock Island County Board Member Angie Normoyle ($76,000), former WQAD-TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen ($57,000) and others are running as well. Biden would have won this seat with 53 percent, but it is at significant risk of a GOP takeover in this political environment. Initial rating: Tilt Democratic.

Races rated Solid Democratic

Races rated Solid Republican

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.