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Gerrymandered districts stifle GOP prospects

Dems’ remap more effective than expected

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Out of power for a dozen years and hobbled even before that by anti-patronage court rulings, the state’s Republican Party infrastructure has all but collapsed.

So, part of the task that GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner has set for himself from here on out is to try to somehow rebuild a grassroots infrastructure.

It won’t be an easy job. Republicans have never, in the modern age, been able to match the Democrats’ ability to dispatch patronage armies to the state’s distant corners because of the Democrats’ Chicago and Cook County patronage bases.

The Republicans’ local organizations are essentially hollow these days, and they have no troops to speak of.

Before the primary, Rauner’s campaign had ambitious hopes of opening as many as 50 field offices throughout Illinois. Those plans were scaled back as reality sank in. Finding enough experienced people to staff those offices would be next to impossible.

It’s unknown at this time, even, apparently, by the Rauner campaign, just how many offices they plan to open and where. The candidate has enough cash to do pretty much whatever he wants. The problem, as noted above, is finding people to do the job.

But if his campaign can get this project off the ground, it could be a game-changer.

Gov. Pat Quinn barely won his last election against a Republican candidate who had almost no field operation. Every vote that Rauner can turn out at the precinct level is a vote that gets him closer to victory. And that Rauner push could have a significant trickle down effect on state legislative races.

Even so, Republicans shouldn’t expect any miracles this November.

A study published earlier this year by Washington University in St. Louis took a look at gerrymandering – deliberately partisan drawing of congressional districts – and found that examining the data in two different ways produced the same result.

Every 1 percentage point increase in vote share by the ruling party produced about a 2 percentage point increase in the number of seats the party won.

So, winning 55 percent of the vote will generally yield about 60 percent of the seats.

Now, compare that to the Illinois results. I asked the Yes For Independent Maps coalition last month to count up the number of votes that all Democratic legislative candidates received so I could compare that to the number of legislative seats the Democrats won.

The coalition is attempting to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November which would try to take some of the partisan politics out of the state’s redistricting process. So, while they do have motives, the numbers are the numbers.

The results were astonishing, as first revealed in my Crain’s Chicago Business column. They far exceed that historic national trend.

According to the remap coalition’s count, Democrats received 53 percent of all the votes cast in all Illinois House races statewide. Using the WashU study, the House Democrats should historically hope to receive 56 percent of the seats, but they won 60 percent in 2012.

The numbers in the Senate were even more dramatic. Senate Democratic candidates won a total of 52 percent of the vote. That would translate historically into 54 percent of the seats, but the party won 68 percent of all Senate seats.

Of course, the Democrats completely control the map process here.

Not all those 2012 wins can be attributed to the map. The Republicans were fighting straight uphill with Obama at the top shooting down.

However, Obama won’t be on the ballot this year. Voter unrest is obviously quite high yet again in the president’s second off-year election, so we’ll soon see just how solidly Democratic those district maps really are. My guess is they’ll hold up pretty well.

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