The Land of Lincoln, which is likely to lose a seat for the third straight reapportionment in 2012, may be the only real weapon at Democrats' disposal this year: Illinois is the only significantly large state where Democrats control the redistricting process.
And after picking up four seats and an unexpected 11-8 edge in the congressional delegation this year, Republicans are a bit overextended and very overexposed.
There is no shortage of freshman Republicans for Democrats to target in the remap, including Reps.-elect Joe Walsh in the 8th District, Bob Dold in the 10th District, Adam Kinzinger in the 11th District, and Bobby Schilling in the 17th District. For one, Schilling captured a grotesquely shaped western Illinois district designed in 2002 to pack as many downstate Democratic voters as possible into one district. Now the buzz is that Democrats could simply eliminate this malfunctioning Democratic "vote sink."
But what might be better for Democrats than eliminating Schilling's district altogether? They could actually make it even more Democratic than it already is.
How? First, the 17th Congressional District could give away its only heavily Republican area, Quincy (Adams County), to veteran Rep. John Shimkus' safely Republican 19th Congressional District. Then, it could combine Rock Island (Schilling's home) and Springfield from the current 17th District with Democratic-leaning Peoria in the 18th Congressional District—sophomore GOP Rep. Aaron Schock's home—to create a Democratic "supermajority" district.
This might force Schilling and Schock into a primary for a seat that would be an uphill battle in a general election. And even if either Schock or Schilling were to prevail in the general, Democrats will have succeeded in "carving out" a Republican. A downstate Democratic dream scenario is depicted here:
Of course, the rest of the state might not be as easy for Democrats to navigate. If Illinois loses a seat and Democrats eliminate one district downstate, all Chicago area districts would still have to expand.
One palatable option for Democrats would be to move the 11th Congressional District represented by Kinzinger (whose home is downstate in Bloomington anyway) downstate and out of suburban Will County entirely. Then, the inner Chicago districts of Reps. Jesse Jackson (2nd District) and Dan Lipinski (3rd District) could expand into fast-growing Will County, which lacks an incumbent, without too much political consequence. If Illinois somehow manages to hold onto its 19th seat, Democrats could still merge Schock and Schilling, but Kinzinger would still probably hold onto most of Will County.
In either case, Democrats would love to strengthen their numbers in the northern Chicago suburban districts of Walsh and Dold, whom they regard as flukes. Democrats could draw more of Walsh's GOP-leaning McHenry County precincts into GOP Rep. Don Manzullo's 16th Congressional District, and force Walsh to take over more Democratic precincts in Lake County. In turn, Dold's district would gain even more heavily Democratic precincts to the south in Cook County around Evanston. Democrats could also seek to improve their numbers in GOP Rep. Judy Biggert's 13th District by adding heavily Democratic Aurora (Kane County) from GOP Rep.-elect Randy Hultgren's 14th District. Their hope would be to assume a strong position to capture the district when Biggert, who will turn 75 in 2012, decides to retire.