Rep. Cheri Bustos won’t run again; Democrats will find it hard to hold her seat on Trump turf

The Moline representative won re-election in 2020 by the slimmest margin of her five House runs for the northwest Illinois 17th Congressional District seat.

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U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who once led the Democratic House political operation, says 10 years is enough in Congress. That poses a potential complication for Illinois Democrats in 2022.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who once led the Democratic House political operation, says 10 years is enough in Congress. That poses a potential complication for Illinois Democrats in 2022.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who once led the Democratic House political operation, announced Friday she will not seek another term and will step down after 10 years in Congress, creating a potential complication for Illinois Democrats in 2022.

Bustos, 59, who lives in Moline, won re-election in 2020 by the slimmest margin of her five House runs for the northwest Illinois 17th Congressional District seat.

“As I turn every corner on each decade of life, I take time to reflect and evaluate what my next chapter might bring,” Bustos said in a statement. “That’s how, 10 years ago, I decided to run for Congress. And it’s why today I am announcing I will not seek reelection after completing this term.”

In addition to that close call, Bustos chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the House political operation — in 2020, when Republicans picked up so many seats on her watch that Democrats nearly lost control of the House.

Bustos is one of a shrinking number of Democratic centrists in a party with a progressive wing that’s growing stronger and more influential.

She will leave with the distinction of being one of the few Democrats with a track record of winning on heavily Republican political turf. Former President Donald Trump won in Bustos’ district in 2016 and 2020.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosihas often mentioned that she valued Bustos’ perspective as a Democrat who knows how to talk to Trump voters.

“Bustos has consistently brought her messaging mastery and political astuteness to our work to mobilize and energize Democrats in the Congress and across the nation,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Bustos won 52-48 last year over Esther Joy King as Trump beat President Joe Biden by under 2 percentage points in the district.

King said Friday said she will run again for Congress.

The rare open seat immediately sparked a Democratic scramble.

“I’ve already been on the phone with people interested in running,” said former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat who was an architect of the 2011 congressional map based on the 2010 census.

Bustos’ district was drawn as “basically a swing district,” Cullerton said.

All 2022 congressional district lines will be redrawn, based on the 2020 census. And Democrats will control the map-making, just as they did in 2011.

Because of population shifts across the nation, Illinois will lose a seat in Congress in 2022, dropping from 18 seats in the House to 17. There are currently 13 Democrats and five Republicans.

The new 17th will likely be a swing district, according to Cullerton.

Bustos’ departure creates complications for Democrats because they will not have an incumbent who Republicans have supported. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said it’s “a tough district anyway and may require another look at how we juggle the map.”

Democrats will be aiming to bolster Reps. Lauren Underwood and freshman Marie Newman by drawing districts with fewer Republicans while trying to add Democrats to turf now held by Republican Rep. Rodney Davis.

One question will be whether Democrats decide to carve up the political real estate surrounding Chicago’s suburbs now held by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the most popular Republican in Illinois.

The first step in Illinois congressional mapmaking will be drawing the districts protected by the Voting Rights Act: the three Black-majority districts now represented by Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush, Danny Davis and Robin Kelly and a Hispanic district held by Democrat Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

David Wasserman, the House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, pointed out that Bustos was one of only seven Democrats nationwide who got elected in Trump districts.

Wasserman said on Twitter that her departure is “a blow to Dem prospects for keeping the majority. ... It’s worth noting IL Dems didn’t have great options for shoring up Bustos’ district.”

Bustos, a former reporter, grew up in politics. Her father, the late Gene Callahan, was a confidante and advisor to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Durbin mentored Bustos, who once babysat for his kids.

Durbin said he and his wife Loretta “have known her all of her life, and we were proud to help launch her political career.”

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