The boundaries of this district were recently redrawn to cover the northern part of the state and cities including Rock Island, Moline and portions of Peoria and Rockford.
It's represented by Democratic incumbent Cheri Bustos, who's engaged in a contentious re-election battle against Republican challenger Bobby Schilling. Adding to the drama: Schilling served the 17th for one term from 2011-2013, losing his congressional seat to Bustos in 2012's general election. Bustos defeated Schilling 53-47 percent, thanks to a bump from redistricting that pulled in extra Democratic voters. Demographically, the newly altered district is primarily white, mostly urban and staunchly middle class.
Bustos, a former journalist, East Moline City Council member and family friend of Illinois' Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, successfully knocked Schilling off his perch in her first stab at federal public office. Angling to reclaim his post, Schilling has blasted Bustos for neglecting to follow through on a 2012 pledge to relinquish 10 percent of her salary. She said recently: "When I was in Chicago, I said something that I shouldn't have said, but I never said it on the campaign trail. I never made it as a promise to the people in the 17th Congressional District."
A native of Rock Island, Schilling owns a pizza parlor in Moline and was formerly a union official at the United Paper Workers International Union. Announcing his candidacy last year, the self-avowed "Reagan Republican" blasted Bustos for declining to back the House's myriad budget proposals: "Our member of Congress voted no on all four Democratic budgets and two of our budgets. Though six budgets went through, you could have found one that was in line and you could have moved things forward."
Clear Politics gives the Bustos-Schilling showdown a "Leans Dem" rating. Same for Politico and Rothenberg. (It certainly helps when the Democratic Party controls the legislature, and hence holds the reins on congressional redistricting.)
Bustos is really good at raising money; Schilling is less so. While the former collected nearly $2 million this election cycle, the latter raised $661,408. Bustos has several advantages: money, incumbency more Democrats in her district than before. But if Schilling, whose grassroots ground game exceeds his ability to solicit campaign cash, can push harder to cast Bustos as a hypocritical promise-breaker, then maybe he'll have a better chance of getting his old job back.