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Illinois Democrats want to paint new Congressional map blue

Updated: June 22, 2011 9:43AM

Illinois’ eight Democratic Congress members are being invited to Springfield Saturday to hammer out a final version of a political map they hope will elect more Democrats next year.

When the music stops on Election Day, Illinois will have one less member of Congress.

Illinois Democrats hold all the cards as they finish re-drawing the new congressional districts this month, and they are determined to make sure only Republicans lose seats.

In the Republican tsunami that swept the country last year, four Illinois Democratic Congress members lost their seats.

State Democrats who control both state houses and the governor’s office are determined to reverse that trend, re-drawing the lines in hopes of reclaiming three or four of those seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is reportedly pushing Illinois Democrats hard to swing as many districts as possible.

Freshmen Republican representatives Bob Dold, Joe Walsh, Randy Hultgren, and Adam Kinzinger are all likely targets.

The map could be released any day.

One thing is certain. With the population shifts documented in the 2010 Census, Illinois will lose on of its 19 congressional seats.

The drawing starts in Chicago where Democrats are intent on saving three black-majority district seats and Rep. Luis Gutierrez’ earmuff-shaped 4th Congressional District, which connects North Side Puerto Rican neighborhoods with South Side Mexican-American neighborhoods by way of the western suburbs.

Like spokes from a bike wheel or pie slices, all those districts are going to have to stretch further out from the city center into the suburbs to keep their minority bases and neutralize suburban Republican votes.

Plenty of Will County Republicans are likely to find themselves represented by former Black Panther Bobby Rush, whose Chicago-based 1st Congressional District has lost population and will have to grow in size. He’ll probably have to lose part of Englewood, and his district will drop from 55 percent African-American to 51 percent.

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s 2nd Congressional District can’t grow into Lake Michigan or Indiana and so his district will plunge all the way down to Kankakee, swallowing the Manteno home of GOP freshman Kinzinger. Jackson’s district will finally include the land around his trademark Peotone Airport project. Those areas were formerly represented by Democrat Debbie Halvorsen, a Jackson rival who was ousted by Kinzinger

Conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski’s 3rd Congressional District used to be centered on the city’s Southwest Side. It has evolved into a 60/40 suburban district with fingers that run up to take in Bridgeport and Beverly. Those fingers are expected to get thinner and his district will migrate further Southwest toward Lemont, becoming even more suburban. Lipinski’s voting record is more conservative than the average Democrat, so suburban voters don’t scare him.

But with a little clever map-drawing, Lipinski ally Mike Madigan, the state House speaker, may extend a finger of North Side Democrat Mike Quigley’s 5th Congressional District down to Burr Ridge to include the home of Democrat John Atkinson. That would spell political trouble for Atkinson, who has raised $500,000 to run against Lipinski.

Or they may create a new suburban district including Burr Ridge and Democratic areas in Joliet and Aurora to lure Atkinson to run there. Members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent, although living outside the district can be a potential political problem.

Wherever possible, the Democrats will draw Republican congressmen into the same district to frustrate their re-election attempts. Representatives Judy Biggert, Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren all live fairly close to each other. Roskam is No. 4 in his party’s congressional leadership, holding the title of chief deputy whip, so he is probably best-positioned to win a tough primary. Democrats hope Biggert, 73, will retire rather than face a tough primary against one of her colleagues.

Rep. Danny Davis will have to move his district further into the suburbs and will see the percentage of African-Americans he represents drop to 51 percent even after giving up some white areas such as Bucktown and Wicker Park to Quigley.

“I may pick up a little bit North and a little bit Southwest,” Davis said.

Gutierrez might see his district move far enough north to take in his house, which now sits in Quigley’s district. The Belmont-Central neighborhood has become Hispanic and would be a good fit for his district, Gutierrez said.

Quigley recognizes the changes being discussed for his district, including the plunge into DuPage, possibly picking up Biggert’s house, will drop his district from about 73 percent Democratic to about 62 percent Democratic. But he believes he will be OK, thanks to his opposition to tax increases and support for budget cuts.

Jan Schakowsky beat a spirited Republican challenger last year better than 2-1, so it appears she could give up some of her Democratic areas and take on some Republican areas from Bob Dold’s 10th Congressional District in order to swing that district Democratic. The house where Dold lives in Republican Kenilworth could be drawn into Schakowsky’s 9th Congressional District. But Schakowsky reportedly does not want to make her district too Republican.

Next-door in the north suburban 8th Congressional District, where Tea Party favorite Joe Walsh upset pro-business Democrat Melissa Bean, the map-drawers are likely to draw Walsh’s house into Don Manzullo’s 16th Congressional District in the northwest suburbs and northwestern Illinois.

Downstate, watch for Democrats to try to draw Peoria-based Aaron Schock, Kankakee-based Kinzinger, and/or Quad Cities-based Bob Schilling into one district.

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