The high-profile race for governor usually grabs both the spotlight
and headlines, leaving contests for legislative seats sitting on the
local sidelines. But the dynamics of Illinois politics adds to the
lack of actual in-play seats.
Illinois' political map gets some of
the blame for the lack of competitive races. The map is drawn in a
way that benefits seated representatives and senators, making it
difficult for political newcomers to have a real shot at winning
against entrenched incumbents.
Mary Schaafsma of the Illinois League of Women Voters said that
under the current map 36 incumbents have won re-election and only 11
"Under the map that was drawn in 2001, which is the map currently
in place, 98 percent of incumbents have been returned to office,"
However, that may change a bit this year. According to former
state lawmaker and current University of Illinois professor Jim
Nowlan, there is an anti-incumbent mood among voters that may
endanger the many seemingly secure incumbents in competitive
districts, he said.
"The majority Democrats are vulnerable to a takeover by the
Republicans because of the extremely sour mood of the public, which
has a kind of 'throw the incumbents out' attitude," Nowlan said.
That means voters will see two kinds of competitive races this
year -- open seats and so-called Obama seats. Open seats are seats
where the incumbent lawmaker has retired or moved on.
"Obama seats" include, but are not limited to, seats that were
picked up in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency. They also
include Democratic lawmakers elected in what were traditionally
Republican districts or Democrats who gained their seats during the
unpopular administration of former President George W. Bush.
There are six Obama seats and nine open seats in play.
A prime example of an Obama seat is the 22nd Senate District,
where state Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, is fighting to keep former
Republican State Sen. Steven Rauschenberger from reclaiming his old
seat in November.
Rauschenberger did not seek re-election to the suburban district
in 2006, choosing instead to run for the Republican nomination for
governor. Noland narrowly won the open seat during a strongly
Democratic year. This year's party swing, however, could put that
seat back in GOP hands.
Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of
Illinois Springfield, said the Noland-Rauschenberger race is a key
contest for both Republicans and Democrats.
"This is one of the districts that you're going to expect huge
amounts of spending by the two legislative caucuses," Redfield said.
"It clearly is viewed as a district that Republicans could take
Another Obama seat in the Illinois House has the parties focused
State Rep. Robert Flider, D-Decatur, a six-year incumbent, is
facing a tough re-election battle in the 101st District.
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Flider faced a difficult election four years ago, winning by only
3,000 votes after spending $700,000.
He ran unopposed in 2008, but this year Republicans are striking
again at a district they believe to be vulnerable. His opponent,
Adam Brown, was hand-picked by Republican leaders and will likely
receive significant help from the House Republicans.
Redfield said the 101st race will be close and expensive.
"That's a swing district where you can spend a ton of money. And
that's likely to be a real hot one," Redfield said. "(With) the
Democrats' problems in the state and nationally, Flider's going to
have a tough time in that district."
One of the targeted open seat races is for the seat that Rep.
Paul Froehlich, D- Schaumburg, held in Springfield.
In 2006, Froehlich was re-elected from Schaumburg as a
Republican, but in 2007 he switched parties and was re-elected as a
Republican Ryan Higgins and Democrat Michelle Mussman are
competing for the seat. Froehlich's party-hopping makes it unclear
which party the district leans toward.
Froehlich ran unopposed as a Republican in 2006, and as a
Democrat in 2008 he defeated his Republican challenger by 6,000
votes. As a result, the district has to be looked at as a swing
district and in this Republican year could very easily fall back
into Republican hands.
The U of I's Nowlan said this year is shaping up to be a banner
year for Republicans and could be a rerun of 1994, when Republicans
took back the Illinois House.
"I think the public mood is so sour that the Democrats could be
vulnerable to losing control of either the Illinois House or
Senate," Nowlan said. "Republicans would need to pick up (a dozen or
so) seats in the House to gain a majority and (just about a half
dozen) in the Senate. So the state Legislature is, I would say, up
But big swings are not always permanent. In 1996, only two years
after House Democrats lost their majority, Democrats reclaimed the
House and put House Speaker Michael Madigan back in control, where
he has stayed for the last 14 years.
Statehouse News; By JENNIFER WESSNER]