About The New Illinois 8th District

-By Collin Corbett

When Joe Walsh narrowly upset Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean by 290 votes in last year’s 8th Congressional District race, many insiders assumed that he, along with most of the other Illinois GOP freshmen, would be on the chopping block in the looming Democrat gerrymandering process. True to assumptions the new Congressional map, which could be overturned in court but will likely hold up, draws Walsh out of his current district and makes the 8th District an open seat.

To give you a picture of the new 8th District, here are some important figures to consider:

  • Demographics
    • Increased from 8% to 12% Asian
    • Increased from 17% to 27% Hispanic
    • Increased minority voting population 13.92% overall
  • Voting Trends
    • Went 61.5% for Obama in 2008
    • Went 48.1% to 43.6% for Brady in 2010
    • Went 51.1% to 43.3% for Kirk in 2010
    • Went 55.2% to 39.7% for Rutherford in 2010
  • Geography
    • Comprised roughly of 51% Cook, 40% DuPage, 9% Kane
    • Contains roughly 56% of the old 6th, 26% of the old 8th, 5% of the old 10th, and 13% of the old 14th
    • Kane County portion heavily blue, DuPage County portion fairly red, Cook County portion leans slightly red

At quick glance, the numbers pulled by Brady, Kirk, and Rutherford in 2010 in the new 8th might lead one to believe that a Republican starts with an advantage. However, the combination of a strong Democrat field, a (so far) weak Republican field, a favorable election year for Illinois Democrats with Obama at the top of the ticket, and demographic trends in the district favoring a minority and/or female candidate lead many to believe that this seat currently leans towards a Democrat pickup.

The increased minority numbers in the new 8th provide all the explanation necessary as to why the two frontrunners in the Democrat primary are strong minority candidates: Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tammy Duckworth. Krishnamoorthi is making this a central theme in his campaign, and has leveraged his heritage to build strong support amongst the Indian-American community including raising large amounts of money from across the country.

Both candidates are looking to win the first major race of their political careers after suffering high-profile losses in recent elections. Duckworth starts the race at a tremendous advantage, leading a very early poll by 61%. Most of this can be attributed to a 76%-15% gap in name ID, as a result of Duckworth’s more public profile and the fact that over half of the new 8th is territory she worked hard in one of the most heavily-contested races in the country in 2006. But even those voters who knew both candidates went for Duckworth 54-32. While the numbers will certainly tighten as the race drags on, this is a massive gap for Krishnamoorthi to bridge.

His early fundraising advantage will help, having raised over $400,000 for his campaign so far, but neither candidate is a fundraising slouch. Though, Krishnamoorthi has shown an ability to earn sustaining support from his donors while many of Duckworth’s are one-time contributors.

It should be noted that having previous high-profile races can be a negative in ways other than proving that a candidate knows how to lose. In many instances supporters from those previous races are forced to choose between the two camps or play the increasingly-difficult game of political neutrality. Krishnamoorthi announced early and quickly gained support of high profile Democrats such as Abner Mikva, Toni Preckwinkle, Melissa Bean, Debbie Halvorson, Danny Davis, Fred Crespo, Nancy Shepherdson, and a number of others. Duckworth only recently threw her hat in the ring, following several months of speculation, and is rumored to have strong national backing only evidenced so far by the support of Emily’s List (a strong backer of hers in 2006 as well).

Already there are signs of strain, with Halvorson pulling her support of Krishnamoorthi (she strongly supported Duckworth in 2006) and Bean’s support being questioned publicly by Duckworth’s camp. Expect these headaches to continue and even intensify for high-profile individuals. For an indicator as to how this race is going, keep an eye on those elected officials as well as the following individuals who have given significant amounts of money to both candidates in the past:

  • Sunil Puri
  • Jonathan, George, & Robert Soros
  • Glen Tulman
  • Bettylu Saltzman
  • Stephen Tomlinson
  • Lewis & Susan Manilow
  • Pamela Crutchfield
  • Scott Mendeloff
  • Benton Majorie
  • Hugh McCombs

For her part, Duckworth is employing a wise strategy. Running like the front-runner, she is mostly ignoring her Democrat opposition while focusing her attacks on Republicans and honing her DC-fed talking points. With Walsh being such a polarizing figure and immensely unpopular amongst Democrat Primary voters, Duckworth is using the fact that he hasn’t publicly announced his intentions to run for the 14th to attack him as the 8th District incumbent. This gives her a point of contrast, gains her favor with liberal donors and activists, and allows her to gain publicity without having to earn it by attacking her primary opponent and raising his name ID in the process.

The trick for Krishnamoorthi will be in how he approaches bridging the gap. All signs point to a very contentious Primary. In fact, many strategists would tell you that is Krishnamoorthi’s only path to victory, judging by Duckworth’s popularity and strong name ID. However, Krishnamoorthi is faced with an unenviable predicament: how does he attack an Asian female war veteran without alienating women and minorities, the two most important voting blocks in a Democratic Primary? He can play it nice, lose, and come out with fairly decent numbers, or go for the win and drag both candidates’ favorables into the gutter in the process.

For Republicans, the opportunity to watch two Democrats slug it out in a Primary is a welcome sight considering that is typically a Grand Old Party pastime. And since all signs point to Walsh running against fellow Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren in the Primary for the new 14th District, it’s a nightmare the GOP will continue to experience. But with Walsh vacating his seat, it leads to a question of who the Republican candidate will be for this important swing district. With no high-profile Republican officials in the new district, the race on the Republican side must begin now if we are to find a candidate who can hold on to this seat and help ensure the retention of a Republican Congressional majority in 2012.

So far, Republicans have yet to present a candidate who can pose a legitimate threat, though many rumors exist. The only declared candidate, Rich Evans, is unknown and will therefore have to prove himself before being taken seriously by party leaders. The NRCC and RNC are recruiting their favorite potentials, a list that includes Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider and DuPage County Regional School Superintendant Darlene Ruscitti. And rumors exist about other individuals looking to throw their hats in the ring, names like Young Republican National Federation Co-Chair Rick Veenstra from the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.

To have a shot at holding on to the 8th District seat, we need good candidates to step up to the plate and we need them now. This race will garner national attention over the course of the next year and a half, and the slow pace is hindering the GOP’s chances at taking advantage of the potential bloodbath in the Democrat Primary. The choice between Boehner/Cantor and Pelosi/Hoyer may well rest on the outcome of the 8th District race, and it’s time our side started moving.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001