Metro-East News

After years of Democratic control, is the 12th District firmly in Republican hands?

Brendan Kelly concedes to Mike Bost in 12th

Democrat Brendan Kelly concedes to Mike Bost in the race for the Illinois 12th Congressional District Tuesday night.
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Democrat Brendan Kelly concedes to Mike Bost in the race for the Illinois 12th Congressional District Tuesday night.

After Democrat Jerry Costello represented the metro-east and southwest Illinois for 24 years, followed by one term of Democrat Bill Enyart of Belleville, the last three elections in the 12th Congressional District have seen Republican Mike Bost be victorious on election night.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly was a top recruit for the 12th District by the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee in its efforts to retake the House, and he still came up short, even though his percentage of the vote was higher than the most recent Democrats, who included C.J. Baricevic.

Even with Kelly’s showing Tuesday, has this once blue district been shaded over with a permanent red marker?

“It sure looks solidly Republican at this point,” said John Shaw, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “The Democrats ran one of the best candidates they could have. Someone that is moderate in many ways, someone who is not a Nancy Pelosi Democrat, a Southern Illinois Democrat.

“The campaign of Mr. Kelly, even though it was very well resourced, was not able to get any closer than he was able to get suggests the 12th District is pretty much a Republican lock, barring a change in the district lines or a very major national or political move that would alter the entire political map.”

The metro-east historically was a blue-collar, strongly Democratic region, with Mel Price of East St. Louis representing the district for four decades before Costello.

Shaw said Kelly may have been the best chance for Democrats to flip the seat.

“Kelly seemed to be the most credible possible Democrat for the 12th District,” Shaw said. “In terms of a conservative law-and-order Democrat, deep ties to the district. He seemed to be the most plausible Democrat you can imagine. The fact he did not make it tells you this district is now firmly a Republican one. It’s hard to know what would have to happen to alter that.”

The neighboring 13th and 15th districts also have been held by Republicans Rodney Davis and John Shimkus, respectively, in recently years.

However, SIUE Political Science professor Andrew Theising has a different analysis of the 12th District and said it could still be in play in the future. Bost only received 51.78 percent of the vote, according to Tuesday’s unofficial totals, and Theising said that number could mean Bost is vulnerable in the future.

“I don’t think that Bost’s victory indicates a permanent change for the 12th District. It is a swing district, in my opinion,” Theising said. “Fifty-one percent is not a resounding victory. And he (Bost) has not been turning out those high percentages that I would say make it a safe seat. If he would break the 60th percentile, I would say yes, we’re looking at a long-term change.”

But redistricting could influence whether Democrats are able to regain a congressional seat in Southern Illinois. It depends how the districts are redrawn after the 2020 Census. It is anticipated the Illinois would lose at least one seat, maybe two, in Congress. Democrat J.B. Pritzker won the gubernatorial election on Tuesday and would be in a position to sign off a new map that potentially would be drawn by Democrats.

“I do not have a sense on how the districts will be drawn, but someone is going to be out of a job after the next census,” Theising said. “I imagine the Democrats will retain control of the Illinois legislature, and I imagine it will most likely be a Republican that loses his or her job. I don’t know if the metro-east would be realigned to make it all one district, and basically a safe Democratic district. Right now it’s divided between Shimkus and Bost (and Davis). There may be merits in keeping it that way.”

IL12 map.jpg
The layout of Illinois’ 12th Congressional District, which stretches from the metro-east to the Kentucky border. Illinois State Board of Elections

Theising said there may be negotiating among legislators during this process.

“I don’t know what kind of tradeoffs will be made, because certainly Chicagoland is going to get what it wants first,” Theising said. “And then the other metropolitan areas will have to fill in around what Chicagoland wants as far as congressional boundaries go.”

“It seems unusual to me that the once Democratic stronghold of (the) metro-east was divided up and allowed to go Republican as it has,” Theising added. “I’m guessing that the legislature might want to increase the number of Democratic seats and all of this is pure speculation.”

Shaw said redistricting is a major unknown variable for this district.

“If past is prologue it’s not hard to imagine if the 12th district is one of those districts that’s changed with a redistricting, it’s really unclear how that’s going to play out,” Shaw said.

Conservative areas

Shaw also said Bost’s victory shows the district clearly supports President Donald Trump.

And Kelly said the president had an effect on other races in Southern Illinois.

“I think the impact of Trump was very obvious throughout Southern Illinois,” Kelly said. “If you look at the state rep. races, the state Senate races, the judicial races, local county races, which the Democrats were long-standing officeholders, the effect was deep and wide that Trump had on many counties in the 12th congressional district and the effect was indisputable.”

Bost, who on Tuesday won a third term in Congress after serving in the Illinois General Assembly, said the district has turned more Republican. He said the area still has support for unions, but has social conservatives.

“Remember it was a conservative Democratic district, it really has been a conservative Democrat district, not even a moderate Democrat district. You have unique liberal pockets in the district,” Bost said. “(But) this district has turned more and more red.”

Bost, who lives in Murphysboro, acknowledged that redistricting after the 2020 census could affect the Southern Illinois representatives, and he and Shimkus, who lives in Collinsville, could end up in the same district.

“What you will see is the land mass would be even larger for whatever the southern district would be,” Bost said. “The only way I could see that be different is, whoever is drawing the map, which is probably (Speaker Mike) Madigan, would elongate those southern districts. I don’t think you would see him do that. Probably you would (see) ... what is now the Shimkus district pretty well aligned across the state to bring the population they need. That line would start I’m sure in the metro-east somewhere and go all the way south and go all the way across the state to be able to get the population.”

Bost thinks it may be difficult to even carve out a Democratic congressional district in southwest Illinois that includes the metro-east.

Some of the counties in the 12th such as Union County, have gone from Democratic to Republican, Bost said. Jefferson and Franklin have become more conservative.

“I don’t think so anymore,” Bost said. “The reason I say that is, you’ve got to remember the changing dynamic of St. Clair County as well. This was a strong Democratic time in St. Clair County, and remember the part of Madison County I have is the most Democratic part of Madison County. When you look at that, they put as much together as they possibly can of the older solid Democratic areas.”

But what about making a toss-up district in Southern Illinois?

“I don’t know. Believe me if there’s a way it could be done, Mike Madigan will see it happen,” Bost said.

The DCCC did not comment on how it would approach the 12th District in 2020.

Harder for the Green Party?

One aspect of the last few 12th District elections may not happen in the 2020 election.

According to unofficial results, Green Party candidate Randy Auxier only garnered about 3 percent of the vote. Because the Green Party candidate is receiving less than 5 percent of the vote, it means the party is in line to lose its established party status in the district, meaning it would have a higher signature threshold to make the ballot in the 2020 election.

Previous Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw received 5.6 percent of the vote in 2012, 2014 and 6 percent in 2016.

Auxier only needed 94 valid voter signatures to make the ballot for the 2018 election.

Non-established or “new” parties need to gather enough signatures equal to at least 5 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous election. According to unofficial tallies from Tuesday, that signature number would be more than 12,900 signatures. As late vote-by-mail ballots come in before the counts become official, that signature number will probably get higher.

“The reason it’s so high is because they don’t have to run in the primary,” said Matt Dietrich, the public information officer for the State Board of Elections. “They go directly onto the general election ballot.”

There had been speculation Auxier would take away votes that potentially could have gone to Kelly. Ultimately the Green Party’s vote share went down, and the percentage Auxier garnered was less than the margin between Bost and Kelly.

Shaw thinks more liberal people in the district ultimately decided to vote for Kelly instead of Auxier because of the Democratic goal of taking back the House.

“The 12th District was considered such a pivotal election and I think in years past very liberal Democrats may not have been inclined to vote for Kelly, but I think there was such a national push for Democrats to win control of the House, they saw the 12th District as being essential to that,” Shaw said.

“So it showed some left-of-center Democrats in the past may have voted for the Green Party,” he said, “‘Now, we’ve got to hold our noses and vote for the conservative Democrat.’”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451; @JoeBReporter

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.