Illinois 15th District
South of Chicago, the Illinois Central Railroad heads to the city of New Orleans on a railbed elevated a few feet above the rich black soil of the Illinois prairie, topsoil reaching down not just inches but feet. This land dazzled its first settlers, who were accustomed to land that had to be cleared of trees and stumps before it could be plowed. This treeless prairie could be cultivated almost immediately, and with bounteous results. Today, the region is still farming country, made up not of small family farms, but of large and profitable commercial operations, typically of 1,000 acres or more. Cultivating this soil is a business, requiring judgments about crop selection, maximizing yields, proper pesticides, marketing, export prospects, and government programs. The chief crops are corn and soybeans. The prairie landscape of rural, eastern Illinois is marked by only a few towns, the largest of which are the sites of universities: the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois State in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois Wesleyan, also in Bloomington. Politically, these prairie lands incline much more to the party of former House Speaker Joseph Cannon, a Republican from the manufacturing city of Danville east of Urbana, than to the party of Vice President Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat from Bloomington, who served under laissez-faire Democrat Grover Cleveland and was the grandfather of the Adlai Stevenson nominated by Democrats for president in 1952 and 1956.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District of Illinois occupies much of this prairie, beginning in Iroquois County and covering some 130 miles south to the old National Road and U.S. 40, traditionally the line between northern Republican and southern Democratic downstate Illinois. The biggest city here is Champaign-Urbana and the district includes parts of Normal and next-door Bloomington. The twin cities of Normal and Bloomington are split mostly along U.S. 51. Downtown Normal and Illinois State University are in the 11th District, while southern Normal and eastern Bloomington are in the 15th. The district also features a narrow corridor of land extending more than 100 miles along the Wabash River border with Indiana as far south as the Ohio River, with an extension to the town of Eldorado. The university towns are somewhat liberal, but the prairie counties have long been Republican, and on balance, this is a Republican-oriented district.