By Cameron Joseph - 07/19/11 10:00 AM EDT
Republican Reps. Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy will face an easier chance at reelection under redistricting maps the Wisconsin Legislature is set to pass this week.
The new map makes Duffy’s district about 3 percentage points more Republican, and Ryan’s about 2 points more Republican. Then-Sen. Barack Obama won both districts in the 2008 presidential race; under the new map, Obama would still have won Duffy’s district, but by a narrower margin, and Ryan’s district would have gone to his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The party picked up two of those seats last fall: Duffy’s district had been held by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) since the 1960s, while freshman Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) won back a Green Bay-based seat Republicans had held until 2006. Democrats currently hold three seats. In the U.S. Senate, the state has one Democrat and one Republican.
Duffy is a top Democratic target this cycle, and will continue to be so with the district remaining a toss-up. But in a close election, his new district’s contours will work to his benefit, and could help him secure reelection.
Democrats also had hoped for a major step forward by knocking off Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman whose plan to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid has proven controversial. Obama won the district with 51 percent in 2008, giving Democrats hope they could beat him.
But Ryan, who helped design the district map, is off to a strong fundraising start and has $3.8 million cash on hand. His most likely opponent, Rob Zerban, has just $200,000 cash on hand.
The new map keeps Ribble’s district at about the same partisan balance and makes the suburban Milwaukee district of GOP Rep. Tom Petri a bit more Republican as well. Petri, a centrist, has had no trouble holding the seat. But his district went narrowly for Obama in 2008, and he might retire in the next few years after more than 30 years in the House.
Wisconsin traditionally doesn’t redistrict until the fall — state law requires wards and municipalities to finish their redistricting before the Legislature can tackle statewide maps.
But Republican legislators decided to move up the schedule so they could finish redistricting before Democrats have a chance to recapture the state Senate through recall elections against six Republicans.
To make the maps legal, the GOP legislators will pass a state law allowing them to redistrict without having ward lines drawn. There are challenges in court questioning the legality of this move and the maps as a whole, but Democratic officials have yet to sign on to the court battle.
Republicans have had a busy year in Wisconsin: After winning control of the governorship and Legislature, they pushed through a bill that limited collective-bargaining rights for state employees, leading legislative Democrats to flee the state in protest. They also pushed through major legislation on education and voting rights.
The maps will make it hard for Democrats to capitalize on an energized union base to retake the statehouse. They also make it a bit harder for Democrats to retake control of Congress.