Former President Donald Trump would love to take down Adam Kinzinger, one of his chief House GOP antagonists, in next year's midterms. But Democrats might beat him to it.
Illinois lawmakers are on the verge of rolling out a new congressional map that will very likely gut Kinzinger’s exurban Chicago seat, according to several sources close to the redistricting process, leaving him with just a few bleak options for remaining in office next year.
The elimination of his district would force the veteran Republican congressman to choose between running in unfamiliar territory, possibly against another incumbent, or making a long shot run for governor or Senate in a blue state — and that assumes Kinzinger could prevail in a GOP primary after spending the last year criticizing a former president who remains beloved by the base.
“Adam, right now, he and I get along great. What he’s doing, he’s doing. But if you look at the Republican electorate in any one of those districts — probably not,” said Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) when asked if Kinzinger could win in a different seat. “It'd be hard.”
Democrats in the state insist that Kinzinger’s likely fate is driven solely by geographical considerations. Thanks to declining population, Illinois is losing one of its 18 congressional districts, and Democrats in charge of the process need some of Kinzinger’s blue-leaning voters to shore up Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and an open seat in the northwest corner held by retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).
Illinois is one of only a handful of states where Democrats have total control over redistricting, which means they’ll attempt to maximize party gains through the new map. With only a narrow majority and a historically tough midterm approaching, House Democrats plan to press their advantage in those states to squeeze out every last possible seat.
In Illinois, they’ll need to bolster the 12 incumbents seeking reelection, hang on to Bustos’ district — which has become increasingly competitive — and transform GOP Rep. Rodney Davis’ seat in the center of the state into a Democratic pickup.
Axing Kinzinger’s district, which curves from the Wisconsin to the Indiana border, is the simplest way to achieve all of those lofty goals.
Kinzinger is well-aware his seat is on the chopping block but says he's not "overthinking" or "losing sleep" over something of which he has no control.
“If I lose my district, we'll take a look then,” he told POLITICO. “But I'm not too freaked out.”
No official proposed map has yet emerged — only draft copies are floating around, and those were created with preliminary population totals, not the official Census data released earlier this month.
But in interviews, few party operatives in D.C. or Illinois could envision a final plan that leaves much of Kinzinger's seat intact. The Democrats’ ideal map would shift the delegation from its current roster of 13 Democrats and five Republicans to a 14-3 split.
“Given the configuration and where the population trended, and the way it's trending, if I had to take a bet, I bet that we lose a Republican district," said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who represents the Loop in Chicago.
Kinzinger, a veteran inspired to join the Air Force after the Sept. 11 attacks, is well acquainted with sharp-elbowed political fights. After ousting a Democratic incumbent to win the seat in 2010, he was pitted against a more senior Republican, Don Manzullo, in a brutal primary resulting from the last Democratic-controlled round of redistricting. Kinzinger won by 8 points.
Over the years, Kinzinger burnished his national security credentials in the House and served as a member of the whip team who was once well liked by leadership. It was only recently that he stepped into his role as a prominent Trump foil. He is currently one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
With the former president vowing to seek revenge on those who publicly oppose him, Kinzinger’s political fortunes changed dramatically. He already has several primary challengers filed to run against him in his current district. If they split the anti-incumbent vote, Kinzinger might have a chance at returning to Congress — but the looming redistricting likely makes it a moot point.
In interviews, Kinzinger made clear he wants to stay involved in the conversation about the future of the GOP. He has said he would look at running for statewide office if he has no viable House seat. Allies think he could even mount a 2024 presidential bid.
"I certainly wouldn't rule out Senate or governor and anything else. Maybe, who knows?" Kinzinger said.
And he said he did not believe he needed to be in elected office to have an impact: "I still have a passion for what I'm doing and so I'd still fight hard for what I believe. So, I don't think it's necessary."
Some in Kinzinger's inner circle don’t believe he would be content watching from the sidelines. They point out that he has positioned himself as well as a Republican could for a statewide run in solidly Democratic Illinois. He could attract the suburban moderates that have raced away from the GOP since Trump took office, as well as independents weary of the Democrats’ monopoly on state and federal politics.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, are up for reelection in 2022. Neither has attracted a strong well-funded opponent.
Kinzinger, on the other hand, has amassed a huge war chest — thanks to a surge of donors eager to reward him for opposing Trump. He had more than $3 million banked as of July and has been stockpiling money in an aligned leadership PAC that will support like-minded candidates.
“If the Democrats think that they're just going to draw him out and that'll be the end of Kinzinger, I think they might want to take a second look,” said former Rep. Bob Dold, a Republican who represented the Chicago suburbs. “The Democrats, if they were smart, would leave that district alone.”
As formidable as he might be in a general election, Kinzinger will have Republican primary election difficulties no matter the office he seeks. The former president is still immensely popular with GOP voters and Kinzinger's unrestrained criticism of Trump would make it easier for a pro-Trump candidate to stoke the base. Trump himself could help recruit Senate or governor prospects to oppose him.
As for Kinzinger’s House district, GOP Reps. Darin LaHood and Mary Miller may end up absorbing some of his territory. He could choose to run against one of them in their newly reconfigured districts, but might struggle to attract Trump supporters.
"The other question is: how will the hardcore Trump loyalists feel about him? Given the influence that he has," said Rep. Chuy García, a Chicago-based Democrat. "Right now, it'd be pretty challenging."
The open Bustos district will likely include some swaths of Kinzinger’s old seat and he could choose to run there. But he would have to contend with 2020 Republican nominee Esther Joy King, who is making a second bid after a strong showing last cycle.
In the most popular proposed maps, Bustos’ seat emerges as the only true battleground. The House Democratic campaign arm was out recruiting candidates in the district this month, according to a source familiar with their efforts. Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann is likely to run and state Sen. Steve Stadelman is another possible candidate.
Meanwhile, the suburban Chicagoland seats held by Democratic Reps. Sean Casten and Underwood, both of whom ousted Republican incumbents in 2018, will become significantly safer.
Kinzinger is not the only political casualty of the upcoming remap. Davis’ central Illinois seat will likely take on a string bean shape connecting Champaign, Decatur and Springfield (which are already in his district) with the Democratic city of East St. Louis (which is in Bost’s.)
The planned new configuration for the district would make it a relatively strong Democratic seat, meaning Davis might also be eyeing a statewide bid instead of running an uphill House race.
“I'll make my decision once the political battlefields are set,” Davis said in a brief interview. “We don't have any say because it's run by corrupt Democrats who have super majorities in the House and the Senate.”
Olivia Beavers and Shia Kapos contributed to this report.
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