The stakes are becoming clearer.
Although most current election attention in Illinois seems focused on the governor’s mansion, and specifically the increasingly adversarial Republican primary, of more significance is the makeup of the General Assembly. Governors can do only so much without legislative approval, and most voters have long enough memories to recall Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s four-year term last decade marked by bitter standoffs with the Democrats who controlled the legislature.
All 118 House and 59 Senate seats will be on the ballot in November, but the math doesn’t look good for a Republican takeover.
Following resolution of nomination challenges, the Illinois Capitol Group recently updated its 2022 election map review (tinyurl.com/2022ILmap), including an interactive district guide with information on incumbents and primary challengers, including population and demographic breakdowns, endorsements and more.
The big picture number is up to 314 primary candidates for 177 seats. That’s not quite two candidates per seat, but it also reflects many uncontested primaries and others with three or four candidates vying for one nomination.
With a formula for average party preference using 2020 and 2016 presidential returns as well as the 2018 governor and attorney general and 2016 comptroller races, Capitol Group’s analysis of the new legislative maps suggests Democrats could hold their Senate edge, 41-18, and increase the strength of their House supermajority from 73 to 79 seats, leaving 39 for Republicans.
However, the group did identify 13 House and five Senate races where the party preferences are close to an even split. Among those are House 20, a plus 3.18% district for Democrats where Republican Brad Stephens hopes to win reelection. Even narrower is House 45, where incumbent Republican Deanna Mazzochi (who currently represents the 47th) hopes to win in a district that is plus 0.09% Democratic.
Ten of the other 11 possibly tight districts have incumbent candidates matching the voter preference. The exception is House 91, which leans Democratic by 1.92% but has no resident incumbent. Surely anything can happen at the polls, and the November ballot is far from final, but even in early May the estimates are worth observing.
Other factors to consider are whether different wings of the majority party gain traction, even if the overall General Assembly composition remains fairly static. Voters who feel extremists are wielding too much power have a way of drawing parties back toward the middle, and sometimes that happens as a response to the national climate even if the state-level candidates don’t fully reflect the caricatures their detractors promote.
The latter can possibly play out as the new districts become familiar over the next decade. Voters still have tangible power, but exercising said strength includes contact and communication far beyond Election Day.