By DAVID H. EVERSON and JOAN A. PARKER
1982 Congressional elections: redistricting and Reaganomics
In normal times, incumbents are safe in Illinois congressional elections. But reapportionment made it hard for Republican incumbents to make it to the general elections, and a depressed economy made the races close, notably in the 18th District where House Minority Leader Bob Michel narrowly won and in the 20th where long-time incumbent Paul Findley didn't. The Democrats won 12 of the 22 seats, reversing what had been a Republican majority in the Illinois delegation
A TELESCOPIC view of the 1982 congressional elections in Illinois shows a state with a competitive balance between the two parties an uncanny reflection of national political trends. A microscopic view, however, shows some districts dominated by one party, some districts which were reasonably competitive and some districts where races were decided by a blend of local and national factors.
The overall figures for Illinois would suggest that this was a Democratic year in Illinois politics. The Democrats did receive 58.1 percent of the congressional votes cast in the state (2,093,272) to the Republicans' 41.9 percent (1,508,308), which looks like a landslide. But because the majority of those Democratic votes were concentrated in Cook County, the number of congressional seats won by the Democrats was not proportionate to those figures. In the newly reapportioned state, Democrats won 12 of the 22 available seats, reversing what had been a 14-10 Republican majority before reapportionment and the election.
In normal times incumbents are safe in Illinois congressional elections. And indeed, 19 out of the 20 incumbents who made it to the general election in 1982 were reelected. But the effects of reapportionment created a perilous path to the general election for Republican incumbents this time.
Illinois was special this year because of the national focus on two central Illinois congressional races. House minority leader Robert Michel of Peoria survived an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democrat labor lawyer G. Douglas Stephens of Peoria in the 18th District in what was widely heralded as a referendum on Reaganomics. In the 20th District, 11-term Republican Congressman Paul Findley of Pittsfield, who was given a redrawn district which was less favorable to his party, lost in the confrontation with Democrat Richard Durbin, a Springfield attorney. This race was unusual because of the money poured into both sides of the race from outside the district.
Throughout the state, reapportionment had measurable effects on some races, creating some alterations in the makeup of the Illinois congressional delegation. And while incumbents retained advantages in 1982, there were some "swing" districts which made interesting specimens for a microscopic view.
Incumbent U.S. representatives have traditionally fared very well in Illinois. From 1972 to 1980, for example, only five were defeated, and the reelection rate in the state was 95.4 percent. But 1982 was unusual. As a result of reapportionment, retirement and general election defeats, five incumbents (four Republicans and one Democrat) would not return to Congress. One casualty of reapportionment was Rep. Robert McClory (R., Lake Bluff) who retired rather than run against fellow Republican John Porter of Evanston in the March primary in the 10th District. Edward Derwinski (R., Flossmoor), another incumbent, was defeated in the 4th District primary, as were Tom Railsback (R., Rock Island) in the 17th District and John Fary (D., Chicago) in the new 5th District. Paul Findley's loss in the general election was the lone incumbent setback giving a survival rate in Illinois for incumbents of 95 percent, the same as in 1980.
The Democratic party's base in Chicago and Cook County insured that eight of the 12 districts which are wholly or partially in Cook County emerged solidly Democratic. In these eight races, the Democratic winners received an overwhelming 82 percent of the vote. On the average, the Democratic candidate won with the very wide margin of 64 percentage points in these eight districts. The "worst" winning margin was 36 percentage points; that was in the 9th District where incumbent Sidney Yates won 68-32 percent over Republican Catherine Bertini of Chicago. At one time, it was thought that Yates could be in trouble, and there was some controversy in this race when the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed Yates over his female opponent. At the other extreme of Democratic dominance, incumbent Harold Washington of Chicago
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captured 97 percent of the vote in the 1st District. This rousing support may have enhanced Washington's bid, announced shortly thereafter, to seek the Democratic nomination for mayor of Chicago in the February 22 primary. Downstate, there were two substantial Democratic wins, both in southern Illinois. There were also several relatively easy Republican wins in the suburbs and downstate. For the Democrats, the dean of the Illinois delegation, Melvin Price of East St. Louis,
But some incumbent Republicans found themselves in stiff battles. In Chicago's 4th District, incumbent George O'Brien bested Democrat Michael A. Murer, 54-46 percent, and in downstate's 19th District, Daniel Crane of Danville survived a challenge from Democrat John Gwinn of Champaign, 52-48 percent. In the latter district, which includes high-unemployment Danville, economic considerations probably account for the decline in Crane's winning percentage, from 69 percent in 1980 to 52 percent in 1982.
This left three swing districts in central Illinois the 17th, 18th and 20th. The Democrats won two of these races, capturing seats which had belonged to the Republicans for many years, and these results reflected national trends toward Democratic House candidates in 1982.
Perhaps the most surprising victory was Lane Evans' (D., Rock Island) 53 to 47 percent win over state Sen. Kenneth McMillan (R., Bushnell) in the 17th District, which had elected only one Democrat to Congress in this century. But the population heart of the 17th District is the Quad Cities where unemployment was a serious problem, and the Democratically drawn new district was more Democratic than it had been. This race was for an "open seat" because conservative McMillan had bested incumbent moderate Tom Railsback of Moline, a 16-year veteran of the House, in the primary.
Reapportionment, combined with the poor economic conditions in the district, McMillan's ultra-conservatism, and the efforts of organized labor all spelled success for Evans, a former legal aid attorney and political activist. The Illinois Public Action Council, a populist political action committee, worked hard for Evans.
But the national spotlight was on the 18th and 20th districts which were hit hard by the recession, especially their farm economy, their industry dependent upon that economy and foreign exports. Plant slowdowns, shutdowns and high unemployment could be found in Peoria (18th), Springfield and Decatur (20th). Despite the national significance of these two races, the final results depended upon the ways in which national and local issues intertwined and on the "home style" of the incumbents.
In the 20th District, Findley fell victim to Durbin by about 1,400 votes. In 1980, Findley had been pressed hard in the primary by David Nuessen of Quincy and in the general election by David Robinson of Springfield, but he ultimately won reelection with 56 percent of the vote two years ago. Findley's advocacy of recognition and direct negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization had made him a target for Jewish groups that had funneled money into the district to defeat him, but he survived in 1980, in part by making his opponent's campaign tactics an issue in the campaign. In 1982, the Middle East was muted as an explicit issue in the 20th District, although it did affect the race because it helped to generate the sizable campaign treasuries which both candidates enjoyed. The two candidates attracted sums with a combined total of over
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$1.5 million mostly from outside the district: Findley from Arab supporters; Durbin from Jewish fundraising. Without such campaign donations, it is doubtful that Durbin could have unseated Findley.
The 1982 campaign focused on unemployment, social security and service to the district. Durbin attempted to link Findley's support of President Reagan's policies with the severe economic problems in the district. But Findley tried to distance himself from the president and to emphasize his acknowledged record of service to his constituents.
Reapportionment also played a role in Findley's defeat. The new district had artfully cut out some of Findley's rural, western Illinois base. Traditionally Democratic Decatur in Macon County, beset by economic woes, was added to the district, and Durbin carried that county by about two to one. Victories such as this one, in which local issues served to highlight the dissatisfaction of labor and minorities with Reaganomics, reflected the national trend favorable to the Democrats. The party increased its majority in the House by 26 seats; it captured 20 of 33 U.S. Senate seats up for election; and it won 27 of 36 governorships, so that Democrats are governors now in 34 states.
A third swing district was the battleground between incumbent Republican Michel and Democratic challenger Stephens in the 18th District, which includes Peoria. In this case, Michel beat his challenger by 52-48 percent, a narrow victory of the U.S. House Republican leader. The elements in the campaign were mixed. In Michel's favor was a district redrawn but not so severely altered in its interests compared to his old one; he got part of Findley's old agriculturally oriented district. But working against him were a decline in the agricultural economy and in the industries dependent on agriculture and exports, and an aggressive and capable young challenger.
However, Stephens was unable to ride the national Democratic tide to victory because of the countervailing national Republican support which came to Michel. Michel was able to outspend his challenger approximately four to one. It is a measure of the potency of the economic issues that Michel's share of the two-party vote declined by 11 percentage points from 1980 despite his advantage in campaign funds. The defeat of Michel would have been a presumed repudiation of Reaganomics; but the closeness of the race may also create some erosion in Reagan's support if it causes Michel to move away from the president on economic issues.
One lesson for the most prestigious and powerful of congressional incumbents: Sometimes, they are the most vulnerable, especially if the incumbent is tied to the party blamed for unpopular national policies reinforced by circumstances at home. If challengers believe that incumbents are vulnerable after this election, the character of congressional elections in Illinois and the nation could become competitive as a rule and not the exception. In Illinois, of course, it seems that this idea will not hold for Republican challengers in Chicago districts.
There was a pattern in the 1970s of fewer and fewer close congressional elections. The power of incumbency was such that by 1980, 90 percent of the incumbents in Illinois won by 60 percent of the vote or more (see "Congressional elections: the advantage of
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incumbency" in Illinois Elections, 1982). Not so in 1982, at least for Republicans. Of all the 20 incumbents running, one Republican lost and five others won by less than 60 percent of the vote. Only 14 out of 20 or 70 percent of the incumbent races were non-competitive (incumbent receiving 60 percent or more of the vote).
It will be especially instructive to watch the 1984 races of the newly elected representatives, especially Durbin in the 20th and Evans in the 17th, to see if they are able to retain (or even strengthen) their hold on the districts. It will also be significant to see if strong candidates emerge to challenge Republican incumbents who were re-elected in 1982 with less than 60 percent of the vote: O'Brien in the 4th; Porter in the 10th; Martin in the 16th; Michel in the 18th; and Dan Crane in the 19th.
The Republican losses cost Illinois some minority leadership positions in the U.S. House: the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, McClory; the second ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, Railsback; and the second ranking member on the Agriculture Committee and the third on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Findley. At the same time, however, Edward Madigan now becomes the ranking minority member on the Agriculture Committee; and besides Michel, two of the state's most powerful members were returned to Congress: Rostenkowski, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; and Price, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
In summary, it was reapportionment that set the stage for the change in the Illinois delegation and for the few highly competitive races in 1982. Where there was strong competition, the challenger was generally well-financed and aggressive. But many districts, especially in Chicago, may never be competitive and will continue to provide incumbent stability: Seven of the 19 incumbents reelected were Chicago Democrats.
Viewed in a national context, the Illinois results were a "split decision" on Reaganomics since two out of the three critical districts went to the Democrats. On the whole, the 12-10 Democratic advantage in the Illinois delegation parallels the Democratic advantage in the U.S. House, where Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill now has a stronger policymaking hand. But the numerical facts may not tell the whole story on the degree of support that President Reagan can expect in the wake of the election. The quantitative inroads that Democrats made by picking up 26 congressional seats may be reinforced by reductions in the enthusiasm of Republicans for policies that don't sit well with their unemployed constituents in places like Peoria. We may learn most about that by zooming in with our microscopes to see how Michel plays it.□
David H. Everson is director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center at Sangamon State University, and Joan A. Parker is a research associate in the center. Research assistance for this article was provided by Tawny Meek, graduate assistant in the center. Everson and Parker have co-authored other articles on election topics, including "Congressional elections: the advantage of incumbency" in Illinois Elections (second edition), 1982.
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