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WNIJ and NPR offer special coverage of Election 2016. WNIJ News field reporters and NPR editors nationwide update election news all night.Links to Race ResultsFollow the NPR Live Election BlogLocal County-By-County Election Results

A Tale of Two U.S. House Districts: One Contested, One Not

From the candidates' websites.
Republican Pete DiCianni, left, and Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi are competing in the open Illinois 8th Congressional District .

Greetings from Illinois' 16th Congressional District, where voters will find one U.S. House candidate on the ballot: incumbent Republican Adam Kinzinger.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R)

This results directly from 2010 redistricting, when state Democrats -- who controlled the map making process -- packed Republicans into a half-moon around Chicago's suburbs, stretching from Wisconsin to Indiana. This made neighboring districts less Republican, but it created a nearly impossible environment for Democratic challengers in the 16th.

In 2012, Wanda Rohl challenged Kinzinger and was handily defeated, 62% to 38%. Then in 2014, Kinzinger crushed Randall Olsen -- taking 70% of the vote.

This year, Democrats didn't bother to show up.

Democrats might've nominated someone if the incumbent got in trouble, but Matt Streb says Kinzinger is popular in the district. Streb is a political science professor at Northern Illinois University. He adds Kinzinger is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party.

Combine all these factors and you have a candidate who can deflect the radioactivity coming from the top of the ballot.

"We've talked about the rock-and-a-hard-place Republicans are in with Donald Trump," Streb says. "Kinzinger came out right away and disavowed him. He's going to win no matter what he says about Trump."

Credit Northern Illinois University
Matt Streb, political science professor

So, good for Kinzinger. But aren't contested elections also a good thing? Streb says this issue gets to the core of our democratic values.

"It holds elected officials accountable," Streb says. "If you know you're going to have some sort of competition, you're going to listen to the voice of the public." Streb also cites arguments saying competitive elections lead to less corruption.

In an interview with WNIJ, Streb took pains to make clear that he wasn't knocking Kinzinger. "But I think it's a good thing for people to have options," he says.

Streb finds the race in the 8th Congressional District much more interesting because it's an open seat vacated by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who's running for U.S. Senate. The candidates wishing to succeed her are Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi and Republican Pete DiCianni.

"Open seats are generally expensive," Streb says. "It's a great opportunity for quality challengers to come in and not have to go against an incumbent." Nevertheless, Streb says, one candidate has money worthy of an incumbent.

"Krishnamoorthi has about $3.3 million," Streb says. "DiCianni is around $250,000."

Streb describes Krishnamoorthi as more fiscally moderate than many Democrats, but liberal on social issues. DiCianni stands out because he doesn't fit the party mold. "I'm not saying DiCianni isn't conservative," Streb cautions. "But he's somebody who will say, `I don't want to repeal Obamacare, I want to amend Obamacare.' So he's a little more moderate."

Still, DiCianni faces an uphill battle in this heavily Democratic district. "Krishnamoorthi has an overwhelming advantage in money," Streb says. He adds Democrats have an advantage this election because Republicans are deeply divided over Donald Trump.

Streb notes that DiCianni has been quiet about Trump. Krishnamoorthi, Streb says, may benefit from having Illinois native Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot.

Tomorrow, Streb will examine the contests in Illinois' 17th and 6th Congressional districts. Listen during Morning Edition, after our Perspective, at 6:52 and 8:52.

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.
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