A major issue hangs over the heads of state lawmakers, waiting for them next week when they return from spring break.

Click for interactive Congressional District map.

House Speaker Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, admits he was too optimistic when he stated at the beginning of the session that he wanted to have congressional redistricting resolved by the end of February. Still, he doesn’t believe it will be a distraction.

“And that was my point at the beginning of session. I’d like to get this moved on, so we’re not worried about it,” Tilley told reporters at the Capitol. “So, I would suspect the week we come back to session you will see some action either in the Senate or in the House.”

The stakes are high for Democrats. Missouri’s Congressional delegation shrinks from nine to eight. Republicans control the House and Senate, controlling the committee process to redraw congressional district boundaries. Democrats held control of the legislature the last time Missouri lost a congressional seat. The new boundaries threw Congressman Ike Skelton, a Democrat, into a race against Congressman Wendell Bailey, a Republican, with the new 4th Congressional District redrawn to favor Skelton who won the battle of incumbents.

A similar scenario could play out next year. New congressional districts will be in effect for the 2012 elections.

House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, a Democrat from Kansas City, understands Republicans have drawn a bulls eye on the back of St. Louis area Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan.

“He’s probably the one that if you’re going to have an odd man out, they’re probably looking at him,” Talboy told reporters. “I would venture to say that they’re probably not going to go after one of their own. It might make Lincoln Days a little tough.”

The reference to the annual Republican get-together elicited nervous laughter from the House Democratic Caucus attending the news conference with Talboy.

Talboy reasoned that if Republicans want to make life harder for one of the state’s congressional members, they would choose Carnahan. Carnahan’s 3rd Congressional District leans Democrat, but isn’t a solid Democratic district. It runs south of St. Louis and incorporates Jefferson and Ste. Genevieve Counties. Talboy says a change of five to ten percentage points in the make-up of Carnahan’s district could make him vulnerable next year.

The ace in the hole for Democrats is Governor Nixon. But, if Republicans can persuade just a few House Democrats to accept their proposed map, they would have a veto-proof majority. Other protections include the Voting Rights Act and other federal mandates for a balanced, fair and open redistricting process.

Talboy said it’s a good sign that the congressional delegation is talking among itself.

But has the House Democratic Caucus thought about a strategy to protect Carnahan?

“Yes, but in all fairness I probably wouldn’t make that public if there was a strategy,” Talboy quipped.

The legislature ends its spring break Monday afternoon. Congressional redistricting is sure to be a big focus in the final weeks of this legislative session.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:20 MP3]