Wins in state Houses give GOP the advantage in redistricting process

Major state legislative gains have the Republican Party poised to control next year's redistricting process, which could solidify its majority in the House for the next decade.

The GOP flipped control of at least 19 state legislative chambers Tuesday, a result that gives the party a commanding redistricting edge.

Republicans head into next year's round of reapportionment with total control of the process in four critical states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, where redistricting expert Michael McDonald said he expects a "no-holds-barred" approach from the GOP.

"The state governments can basically do whatever they want in these places," said McDonald, a professor at George Mason University and Brookings Institution fellow. "It's really an embarrassment of riches for Republicans in these battleground states where they won virtually every competitive race they could win."

Take Ohio, where Republicans knocked off five House Democratic incumbents Tuesday — Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus, Charlie Wilson and Zack Space. On top of that, the GOP reclaimed the Ohio state House and took the races for both governor and secretary of state.

That gives Republicans a lock on the process in a state that is predicted to lose two seats after the 2010 census is complete. Pennsylvania and Michigan are also projected to lose seats, while Texas may gain three or four.

Republicans have control of the process in several other states that are likely to see the most upheaval next year. According to the latest census projections, 18 states are poised to either gain or lose seats.

"Of the 18 states that will gain or lose seats, Republicans hold majorities in 10 states," the chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), Ed Gillespie, wrote in a memo on Tuesday's results.

The RSLC spent some $30 million to influence state legislative contests and races for attorney general and secretary of state across the nation.

The outcome in the New York Senate is still too close to call. That state is projected to lose as many as two congressional seats next year. 

"The bottom line is that Republicans will have a much greater impact on the redistricting process as a result of [Tuesday's] elections," Gillespie concluded.

The depth of Republican gains on the state level Tuesday surprised many observers, including McDonald. The party gained more than 500 state legislative seats across the country Tuesday. According to figures from the RSLC, that easily tops the 472 legislative seats the party won in 1994's wave election and the 322 seats Democrats were able to capture across the country in 2006.

Even with the final results in a handful of chambers still outstanding, Republicans now boast majorities in both state legislative chambers in a total of 26 states. Prior to Tuesday, that number stood at 15.  

"In a political environment worse even than that of 1994, our candidates for state legislatures fought tirelessly against the GOP wave that swept the nation this fall," said Michael Sergeant, executive director of the RSLC's counterpart, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, in a statement. "Our candidates and legislative leaders should be proud of their impressive and hard-fought campaigns."

Despite the party spending some $20 million, the vast majority of endangered Democratic-led state legislatures fell back into Republican hands.

Still, the news isn't all good for Republicans. McDonald points to the state of Illinois as one bright spot for Democrats. It's at least one major state where the GOP won't have complete control of the redistricting process next year. Illinois could lose a seat.

And in other states that stand to lose congressional seats, big GOP gains in the House this year mean the party will face some tough choices when it comes to reapportionment. McDonald said it's unlikely that Republicans will be able to protect every one of their incumbents in Ohio, given that two seats are slated for elimination next year.

"The question now becomes, Do you spread Republicans more thinly throughout districts, or do you sacrifice a couple of your new incumbents?" said McDonald. "It's going to be fascinating to see how that plays out."

Here's a full list of the state legislative chambers flipped by Republicans on Tuesday: Alabama House and Senate, Colorado Senate, Indiana House, Iowa House, Maine House and Senate, Minnesota House and Senate, Michigan House, Montana House, New Hampshire House and Senate, North Carolina House and Senate, Ohio House, Pennsylvania House and Wisconsin House and Senate.

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