Dems stand as Obama calls for redistricting reform

President Obama called Tuesday for an end to partisan redistricting, creating one of the biggest applause lines from fellow Democrats in his State of the Union address. 

"We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it," Obama said.

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Democrats in the chamber stood in response, while Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Republicans remained in their seats. 

Obama's party lost control of the House in his first midterm election, and the Democratic Party's chances of getting it back are dim in large part because of redistricting. 

More votes were cast for Democratic House candidates in the 2012 election, for example, but it didn't help put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back into the Speakership. 

Currently, the number of districts with competitive races between the two parties is down to just a handful. Just 16 House races are ranked by the Cook Political Report as "toss-ups," and only five Senate races earn that designation. 

The Supreme Court is also set to decide on a redistricting case later this year that could have significant implications as far as how state governments carve up legislative districts.

Obama also called for campaign finance reform.

"I believe we have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections   — and if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. Because it's a problem, and most of you don't like raising money."

The president warned that a failure to enact these reforms will "forsake a better future." 

"Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure," Obama said. 

He also called to modernize voting and to remove limits on voting rights, adding that he'll travel the country to echo those calls. 

The president has been a vocal critic of the Supreme Court decisions that removed many campaign finance barriers, allowing for the rise of super-PACs, which can take unlimited donations. 

The court is also set to decide on a redistricting case later this year that could have significant implications as far as how state governments carve up legislative districts.

Currently, the number of districts with competitive races between the two parties is down to just a handful. Just 16 House races are ranked by the Cook Political Report as "toss-ups," and only five Senate races earn that designation. 

Lisa Gilbert, the director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, called Obama's remarks about campaign finance "more robust and specific then any previous."

"At the President’s first address he denounced the Supreme Court for the overreaching Citizens United decision, which has led us to our current dark money-filled reality," she said in an emailed statement. "Now, following his last, it is time for him to take strong action on the matter. By doing so, he can end his two terms where he began his first — and go beyond critique of our moneyed situation by taking strong action to correct it."

She pushed for Obama to issue an executive order that requires federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

By doing so, Gilbert said, the president "can demonstrate that reform in this area is possible."

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