SPRINGFIELD – Republican congressional candidate Bobby Schilling is running against two opponents in the November election — one an incumbent congresswoman and the other a map of electoral districts favoring Illinois Democrats.
What happened in Illinois after the decennial census in 2010 is a mirror image of most of the rest of the country, where Republican legislatures doing the map-drawing helped the GOP retain a 33-seat majority in Congress in 2012, despite widespread losses.
With solid majorities in the state House and Senate as well as control of the governor's mansion, the Democrats had complete control over the Illinois redistricting process in 2011. They used it to defeat Schilling and three other Illinois Republican congressmen in 2012, solidifying their hold on President Barack Obama's home state.
That leaves Schilling, a Colona pizzeria owner, and other Republicans scrambling to find voters while campaigning hard against Obama's health care overhaul.
"It's not an easy task, by any means," Schilling said. But regardless of the map, voters still have to show up, and without Obama at the top of the ticket, he said fewer Democrats vote in the district in northwest Illinois, along the Mississippi River. And while Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney by 50,000 votes there in 2012, Schilling lost to Democrat Cheri Bustos by 19,000.
"The people that flipped and voted for Obama but didn't vote for Cheri Bustos, those are the independent thinkers, those are the people that show up year-in, year-out," Schilling said, explaining how he hopes to make a comeback.
A federal court turned aside a Republican lawsuit over the map, despite noting that the new district lines represented "a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats."
It worked. Illinois Democrats picked off five GOP congressmen after the state lost a seat because of slowing population growth. The delegation now has 12 Democrats — in the same dozen districts Obama won two years ago. Four of the Democrats who won seats in 2012 — Bustos, Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider, and Bill Foster — are in districts that the president won with at least 57 percent of the vote.
"When one party has total control over redistricting, they have every incentive in the world to maximize their advantage, whichever party it is, within bounds of the law," said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.
But not even a favorable map ensures victory. Schneider, for example, won narrowly and faces a rematch with the Republican he defeated, Robert Dold.
"This is a district that will split tickets, is far more independent than most," Dold said.
Of course, it cuts both ways. Freshman GOP Rep. Rodney Davis won by 1,002 votes in a central Illinois district that Romney won by only 928 votes.