No Surprise IL-17 Is a Nail-Biter This Cycle, Bradley Professor Says

Nov 4, 2020

If you're still processing the results from Election Night, you're not alone. Tim Shelley recently spoke with Bradley University political science professor Megan Remmel to break down what happened in some of the biggest races in Central Illinois.

That includes a closer-than-expected race between incumbent Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) and Republican challenger Esther Joy King. Bustos declared victory early Wednesday after pulling ahead by 11,000 votes, but King has yet to concede, and the Associated Press hasn't yet called the race.

Tim Shelley: One of the surprises here in Illinois of the night I think was was how close the 17th Congressional District race between Cheri Bustos and Esther Joy King ended up becoming. I know some of the recent polling had showed that race might be closer than expected, but we were looking at a difference of maybe 100 votes at some points in the night there.

Megan Remmel: So, that race doesn't surprise me. Back in 2018, Bustos had a challenger who, in political science terms, we would call an amateur challenger. Somebody who's not particularly well-established, doesn't have a huge financial network, did have some what I think people would consider fringe views. And so that one was closer than it probably should have been.

But Esther Joy King is what political science would call a qualified challenger. She had a substantial financial backing, she has an attractive background in terms of being a veteran and having a law degree. She's young and vibrant, and physically attractive. And so, she had kind of all the things going for her that would help her flip a district that, again, is trending in the Republicans' direction.

Plus the Republicans nationally were very much going to be targeting Cheri Bustos, one, because of the 2016 [and] 2018 elections, but also because Cheri Bustos is in charge of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And so she's a figurehead of the Democratic Party. And so given the fact that she's kind of a well known figure on the Democratic side of the party structure, this would be sort of a feather in the Republicans' cap to be able to knock Cheri Bustos out of her seat.

So I can't say that I'm surprised that there was a lot of money in this race [and] that it was pretty competitive. [But] I, again, won't be surprised to hear it Bustos manages to pull it off.

But I do think between the Bustos race and the Rodney Davis race over in the 13th District, that the Illinois State Legislature is going to have some creative redistricting after the Census numbers come in. Illinois is almost certainly going to lose a congressional district. And so there was going to have to be some substantial redrawing of the maps, regardless.

But the fact that that Bustos district is so borderline now, and that the Democrats are having problems getting the 13th District, which demographically they probably should because it has Champaign County in it, which should trend pretty blue. Because of the University of Illinois, for instance.

I think that those two districts are going to be pretty important to the state legislature when they redraw the maps next year, because of how tight these races have been, and in trying to shore them up for future elections.

TS: Probably one of the biggest things on the statewide ballot last night was the the graduated income tax amendment, which it appears right now is not going to reach that 60% threshold to to amend the Constitution. Could you talk a little bit about what happened  there?

MR:  Again, not surprised under the current economic circumstances that that amendment is likely going to fail. I've had to explain to some of my students. They've asked me, 'Why would you put an amendment about changing the tax structure on the ballot during a recession?'

And you have to remember that the gathering of the signatures to get this measure on the ballot started 18 months, two years ago. So that was back when the economy was was doing better. And obviously, we didn't have the COVID pandemic going on.

So this is a kind of circumstances just sort of swallowing this amendment in the first place. It was always going to be an uphill battle to get this amendment passed. Under these current financial circumstances, it would have been incredible for this amendment to pass.

And I do think the pro side of this amendment didn't do a great job in terms of advertising. So at least in the downstate area, I have almost only seen anti advertisements. I've seen very, very few advertisements in favor of the amendment. And then, I don't think that that campaign did a great job of explaining how this was going to work, how these brackets were going to work. I don't think most people in the United States understand marginal tax rates. And that was going to be something that was pretty pivotal to this.

So I will say that I do think that side of the campaign sort of dropped the ball. And they already had an uphill battle, so they couldn't afford to drop the ball.

TS: Do we see a similar dynamic happened in terms of advertising with Tom Kilbride's retention race on the state Supreme Court?

I actually -- again, anecdotal evidence here -- saw more mixed advertising there. I don't think it was as lopsided as it was in the tax amendment. But I do think that, given the circumstances around Madigan that maybe didn't exist in 2000, and certainly in 2010, even though Kilbride's retention election in 2010 was was pretty uncertain and had a lot of money coming into the election.

I think in 2020, there was a much, much more concerted effort to one, tie Kilbride to Speaker Madigan. And obviously, Speaker Madigan is not a particularly popular figure in this area of the state.

And then, two because the Supreme Court was tilted for three in favor of Democrats. And Kilbride is the only member of the Supreme Court who's a Democrat who's not from the Chicago area. I do think Republicans poured a ton of money into this race to knock him out in the hopes that they can replace Kilbride with a Republican and tilt the balance of power on the on the state Supreme Court.

So again, this is kinda like a Bustos sort of thing, where this is a really attractive target for the Republican Party to go after.

TS: What would maybe the biggest surprise or biggest takeaway [in Illinois] you'd have from last night be?

Obviously, Democrats tend to do well statewide. They tended to do well statewide last night as again, Dave Koehler, for instance, keeping his feet in the Senate in a race that was looking for a while to be more competitive than I think it actually turned out to be.

But I do think that there there are areas, especially again outside the Chicago area, where Republicans are making gains. Now I'm in no way saying that Illinois is going to flip and become a red state by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think Republicans did better than expected last night.

Political science is probabilistic. So again, I have no idea what that means for the future. But right now, I think Republicans outperformed themselves generally across the state.

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