CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The battle to re-draw congressional districts across the country is at stake further down the ballot on Tuesday, and both parties are pouring millions into the contest.
Republicans want to take advantage of an expected GOP wave to make big gains in state offices that will be crucial in the looming redistricting battle.
The fight in Ohio is expected to be one of the most contentious in the country next year, and Republicans appear poised to take two of the three key spots on the state's redistricting commission.
Former GOP Rep. John Kasich holds a slight lead over Gov. Ted Strickland (D) ahead of Tuesday, and Republican Jon Husted has a double-digit lead in the race for secretary of state, according to the latest poll. That would leave the state auditor's position with Democrats.
Census estimates project the state will lose two congressional seats thanks to population loss that has come largely from Democratic territory in northeast Ohio.
That means the Republican-heavy central and southwestern parts of the state will account for more of the state's overall population and tilt the landscape toward the GOP.
“Inherently, because of those demographic shifts, the process will stand to benefit Republicans,” Husted said. “And we can pick up as many as five congressional seats [in 2010], so if that indeed happens, it would create a much different landscape.”
With Democratic Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, Steve Driehaus, John Boccieri and Zack Space all facing tight races Tuesday, GOP gains in the state's delegation appear inevitable.
Republicans admit it's not the worst situation to be confronted with, but it could mean trouble for a couple of newly elected freshmen as the party would likely have a tough time shielding the state’s entire GOP delegation from the reduction in districts.
A former state legislator and Speaker of the Ohio state House, Husted has been through the often painstakingly partisan process of redistricting before, and played a leading role in the effort to create a bipartisan commission to oversee redistricting last year.
“Maybe I'll be a swing vote and maybe I won't be a swing vote in this process,” Husted teased. “But I'm going to try to walk that thin line.”
On the state level in Ohio, the negative forecast for Democrats mirrors the expectation in several other key states.
Ohio's state House is likely to flip Tuesday. Democrats hold just a seven-seat advantage, and state Republicans are confident they can overcome that. The state Senate is already safely in Republican hands.
In Texas, Republicans are on the verge of once again controlling the entirety of that state's redistricting process, assuming Democrats don't take back the state House and Houston Mayor Bill White (D) doesn't pull an upset in the governor's race. Both of those scenarios appear unlikely.
GOP dominance in Texas is particularly consequential for the upcoming round of reapportionment, given estimates that the state will gain four congressional seats.
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), led by former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillsepie, is confident in Republican pickups of some 10 state legislative chambers Tuesday, including Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The RSLC said it has raised more than $20 million for its efforts on the state level and has come under fire from several Democratic campaigns for running issue ads targeting candidates for attorney general and other offices in several states.
The outlook in most of the nation's 37 gubernatorial races isn't much better for Democrats. Republicans are expected to make big gains in the ranks of the nation’s governors, with GOP hopefuls poised to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Nevada and Wisconsin. The GOP appears likely to hold Florida, and hopes to take Strickland’s spot in Ohio.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is also spending heavily, but its task is much tougher. The DLCC is not only fighting historical trends, it’s defending legislative majorities won by Democrats in conservative-leaning states and districts over the past few cycles.
One bright spot for Democrats down ballot Tuesday could be Colorado, where Republican chances to take the governor's mansion took a major hit when a plagiarism scandal engulfed the party's top recruit. GOP hopes now lie with former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who is running under the banner of the American Constitution Party but trails Democrat John Hickenlooper.