WASHINGTON--Picking up congressional seats in Illinois in 2012 is key to Democrats retaking the House, the chair of the Democratic House political operation said on Wednesday.
I asked Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to assess the chances for Illinois Democratic gains in the wake of Illinois state Democrats muscling through the Legislature this week a map drawn along highly partisan lines.
With the new map, Illinois--a Democratic leaning state--is central to Democratic strategy to win back the 24 Republican seats they need to regain control of the House.
"Illinois and particularly the suburbs of Chicago have always been a center of gravity in our path to retake the House majority," Israel said at a reporters breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Illinois currently sends 11 Republicans and eight Democrats to Congress, with the GOP scoring last November the biggest gains in decades: the election of five GOP freshmen.
Because of population shifts, Illinois will lose a seat starting in the 2012 election. The Democratic mapmakers diluted GOP strongholds by drawing new heavily gerrymandered district lines to add more Democratic territory to the mix. The five GOP freshmen, Adam Kinzinger, Bob Dold, Bobby Schilling were thrown into Democratic turf and Joe Walsh and Randy Hultgren were pitted against each other.
Israel suggested four Illinois districts under the new map would be prime prospects for Democrats: 8, 10, 11, all in Chicago's suburbs, and Downstate, 17.
Israel had no sympathy for Republicans who protested the new map, crafted to wipe out the 2010 gains because in some states where the GOP controls the map--think Texas-- they have used redistricting to throw out Democrats.
"There are Republicans who were complaining about Illinois. This is like the arsonist hitting the fire alarm, it is just not credible," he said.
Israel is also counting on President Obama at the top of the ticket in 2012 helping elect more Democrats in his adopted homestate.
"The landscape is also immeasurably improved by the fact that President Obama is running for re-election. You're going to have a significant presidential surge in Illinois, which should help our candidates," Israel said. Israel visited Chicago in January to recruit candidates and prospect potential donors.
Republicans want to challenge the map in federal court. If there are no changes, a Democratic analysis of the new districts found:
*8 safe Democratic seats: 1.Bobby Rush; 2.Jesse Jackson Jr.; 3.Dan Lipinski; 4. Luis Gutierrez; 5. Mike Quigley; 7., Danny Davis; 9. Jan Schakowsky and 12. Jerry Costello.
*5 competitive or swing seats: 8. Considered open, now held by Walsh; 10. Dold; 11. Open; 13. Tim Johnson; 17. Bobby Schilling
*5 Republican lean to GOP safe: 6. Peter Roskam; 14. Hultgren; 15. John Shimkus; 16. Don Manzullo; 18. Aaron Schock.
Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) left homeless in the Democratic map may run from the open 11th; Kinzinger is likely to head to the Manzullo district; Walsh may switch to the 14th.
CORRECTION: On Tuesday I wrote the three best GOP districts were for Johnson, Roskam and Schock. It's Shimkus, not Johnson plus the two others. Sorry.