Speculation and expectations ran amok in the aftermath of Republican U.S. Rep. John Skimkus’ Aug. 30 announcement that he will not seek re-election to the U.S. House next year.
If past was prologue, a group of ambitious Republicans in the 15th District would have been lining up to announce their candidacies for a relatively rare open U.S. House seat. But a funny thing has happened — virtually nothing.
Various would-be candidates sniffed around before deciding to take a pass.
State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, a freshman Illinois House member, announced the creation of an exploratory committee. But, ultimately, he declined to enter the fray because it would be too costly from a family standpoint.
Marron explained that traveling back and forth to Springfield during the year is “hard enough,” but that “Washington, D.C., is a larger commitment.”
State Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet expressed similar sentiments, noting that committing to a congressional race would deny him the opportunity to be around his young children with no guarantee of running a winning campaign. State Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon also checked the lay of the land before including himself out.
There are others, of course, who are still weighing their options. State Sen. Jason Plummer of Edwardsville not only has the ambition to run, but a family fortune to finance his campaign.
The name of Champaign lawyer Erika Harold, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general last year, has been mentioned, but not by her. Harold, however, could be a formidable candidate in the 15th, where voters overwhelmingly supported her attorney general bid.
There are other possibilities as well. But there are two problems the candidates can’t avoid — the district and the timing.
When Shimkus, a Collinsville resident first elected in 1997, announced that he would not run again, he spoke not just of the honor of serving in the House but the physical demands.
“I’m just tired. Last month, for example, I visited 25 different communities, some of them three hours away,” the 61-year-old Shimkus wrote on his Facebook page.
There is no question the geography, although solidly Republican, is a problem.
The 33-county district covers eastern and southeastern Illinois, running all the way from Rantoul north along the Indiana border down to Kentucky.
Part of that unwieldy district is due to the map-drawing skills of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who in 2011 oversaw the redistricting that packed thousands of Republican voters into some downstate districts to assure the election of more Democrats elsewhere.
But a bigger factor is that downstate is far less dense than the heavily populated Cook County area, which covers all or parts of 14 of the state’s 18 congressional districts.
The geography also is related to the second problem — timing.
Whoever wins the 15th District seat in 2020 probably won’t have long to enjoy it because Speaker Madigan will oversee a new round of redistricting in 2021, after the completion of the census.
Because of Illinois’ population woes, the state will almost certainly lose at least one of its 18 House seats, possibly two.
It’s not hard to forecast the mischief majority Democrats will create for minority Republicans through the magic of legislative gerrymandering.
Republican incumbents could — and probably would — be thrown into the same district and have to fight it out for political survival. For example, 13th District U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, if still in office, could be matched with the Republican who succeeds Shimkus.
There are all kinds of scenarios in play.
Rose speculated that Champaign-Urbana liberals may finally get a Democratic House member in 2022 as their representative even if Davis defeats Democrat Betsy Londrigan in 2020. That’s because, he posited, Madigan could give in the remap all or part of Champaign County to 17th District Democratic incumbent Rep. Cheri Bustos of the Quad Cities area.
The bottom line is that a potentially grueling run would be required to win the March 2020 primary in the current 15th District. Assuming a win in the 2020 general on solid Republican turf, the victor could look forward to another difficult run in a redistricted 2022 election.
That’s a lot of time, energy and money to expend on the front end to secure what would be a vulnerable political prize on the back end. No wonder potential candidates aren’t rushing forward to announce that they’re in it to win it.