By Zach Oltmanns -
Rumors have been swirling since shortly after election night that now former Representative Bobby Shilling (photo right) will attempt to reclaim the 17th Congressional District for the GOP in 2014. Former Congressman Schilling has been mum on his future plans other than to return to his small business.
Rumors escalated on Tuesday, however, when Schilling posted the following on Facebook “…To all the people who believed in me, trusted in me and were always there to lift me up, we did what NO ONE could do in 28 years and we can do it again.”
The last part - “we can do it again” - led to some political insiders throughout the state claiming that Schilling is indeed leaning toward another bid for congress. Schilling also voted no on the “fiscal cliff” deal, which led to great praise from conservatives throughout the district and state.
A lot of people have asked “can he win”? The answer to that right now is probably. In 2008, when Schilling challenged former Rep. Phil Hare, the Rock Island Republican won his county by 994 votes (Schilling-23,054 and Hare-22,060). Despite this, in 2012, in the matchup between Democrat Cheri Bustos and Schilling, Schilling lost Rock Island County by a margin of 6,629 votes. This clearly seems that Schilling lost support in his home county, but he actually received 28,789 votes (increase of over 5,500 votes). Cheri Bustos though received 35,418 votes (an increase over Hare’s numbers by over 13,000 votes). A total of 64,207 votes were casted in 2012 compared to only 45,114 in 2010. Therefore, it is very reasonable to expect that in 2014, the amount of votes that are casted will go back down closer to the 45,000 range because of it being an off year election and therefore lower voter turnout. If Democrats stay home, the Republican candidate can possibly win Rock Island County and have an easier time winning the 17th.
Another question being asked is ‘why was it lost in the first place?’ The district went from a Democratic +3 district in 2010 to a Democratic +7 district in 2012. Only 47 percent of the old 17th District from 2010 was placed in the new district in 2012 meaning the incumbent advantage was erased in over half of the district. There were over 90,000 more people that voted district wide in 2012 than in 2010 and in a Democratic leaning district an increase in 90,000 votes is a toxic statistic to any Republican candidate. Obviously, the reason for so many more ballots being cast is because it was a Presidential year. President Obama is still very popular in Illinois and he gave every Democratic candidate in Illinois a bit of a bump with having his name alongside them on the ballot.
Can the 17th district be reclaimed by Bobby Schilling? That is the million dollar question (more likely multi-million dollar question if he does run.) I am confident he can. Even though the numbers show that the district now leans farther to the left, Schilling was able to win in 2010 because he was an independent mind strong enough to stand up to outside pressure. Schilling showed that time and time again in Congress and could have the opportunity to do so some more if he takes the opportunity next year.