By Eric Johnson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Democratic Governor Pat Quinn signed into law on Friday a new congressional district map that could reverse gains Republicans made in the state in 2010 midterm elections.
Democrats were able to leverage their control of the General Assembly and a Democratic governor to approve a new election map for 2012 that analysts said could help Democrats win at least three more congressional seats in the state.
The effects of the law, which Republicans or third-party interest groups may challenge in court, would be to pit strong Republicans against each other, extend Chicago Democratic incumbent districts into suburban Republican districts, and incorporate new voter blocs into Republican strongholds.
Quinn denied that the redistricting was a partisan ploy by Democrats.
"This map is fair, maintains competitiveness within congressional districts, and protects the voting rights of minority communities," Quinn said.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady differed.
"This bill is a crass, partisan political move to silence the voices of Illinoisans, who last November made it very clear that they wanted to fire Nancy Pelosi by electing a majority Republican Congressional Delegation from the home state of President Obama," Brady said.
The Illinois Republican Party's lawyers will review the maps to see if any state or federal laws have been broken, said Jonathan Blessing, a party spokesman.
In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans picked up 60 House seats nationally, knocking Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi from power and putting Republicans in charge of House committees. It was the biggest shift in power in the House since Democrats gained 75 House seats in 1948.
But Democratic analysts believe Illinois and California, where Democrats are still in power at the state level, are their best chances to gain back seats in 2012 through redistricting.
Republicans in power in most of the Midwest and South are drawing maps in those states seeking to protect new Republican members of Congress elected in 2010.
In Illinois, Republicans picked up four seats in 2010 to hold an overall edge of 11 to 8 in the state's congressional delegation. They also kept control of the wealthy North Shore suburban Chicago district vacated by Republican Mark Kirk's successful Senate bid.
Illinois will lose one of its 19 congressional seats due to slow population growth relative to other states, according to the federal census.
Andy Shaw, President of the Better Government Association, said the Illinois map was partisan politics as usual.
"Most of Quinn's adult life was spent in opposition to this blatant political manipulation of the system," Shaw told Reuters. "His willingness to sign the bill without any changes is another indication that he has had to abandon many of his progressive principles to be able to deal with the political realities of Springfield (the state capital)," he said.
(Editing by Greg McCune)