Brown’s win could help redistricting process for Republicans in 2012

Republicans may gain an advantage in next year’s redistricting process thanks to Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) is touting Brown’s win as a sign of dissatisfaction with Democrats in Washington. They translate that into more GOPers in gubernatorial mansions next year, which would give the party an advantage in redistricting.

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“Winning Massachusetts, it sends a clear signal that the American people, by and large, are unhappy with what’s gone on in Washington, D.C., and in many states run by Democrats and they want to bring some balance to it,” said Nick Ayers, executive director of the RGA.

“Whichever party has control of a majority of the [governorships] has an upper hand in managing the reapportionment and the redistricting process,” he noted.

There are 37 governors’ mansions up for grabs in 2010, and Democrats control 19 of them.

But Ayers said he doesn’t expect redistricting to be a central issue in any of these state-level campaigns. It’s more of a whisper issue that will motivate core activists and donors, he noted.

Democrats disagree.

Republicans are understating the importance they’re placing on redistricting, according to Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA).

“The Republicans’ 2010 campaign strategy is entirely about redistricting,” he said. “They have said that they think they can pick up 30 more House seats purely as a result of gerrymandering. That’s a pretty shocking statement, when you think about it.”

After the census is complete in December, several states will gain or lose congressional seats based on population shifts. Northern states such as Michigan, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts are expected to lose seats, while Florida, Texas, Arizona and Georgia are expected to have added seats for the 2012 elections.

“It’s advantageous for both parties to control a majority of those states,” Ayers said.
Observers agree.

“In most states the governor has major power in this process,” said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute who studies redistricting.

A governor can use the threat of a veto to influence the way the state legislature draws up the new districts, Johnson said. “Veto power gives them negotiating power.”

It’s not just states that gain or lose seats where the governor has influence, he added. Every state that has more than one congressional seat will redraw its districts based on the results of the census. “There’s a lot of mischief that can be done by redrawing the seats that they have,” Johnson said.

Daschle said redistricting will be an issue Democrats can capitalize on.

“It’s right smack in the middle of our radar screen,” he said. “I think Democrats are particularly sensitive to the impact of redistricting.”

To help it compete in the gubernatorial contests this year, the RGA has almost doubled its size to 30 full-time staffers. It’s hired Phil Cox, who managed Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s campaign; Tim Murtaugh who did communications for the state party; and field operative Kylie Smith, among others.

In 2009, the committee spent close to $12 million on the races in New Jersey and Virginia, officials said. Coming into 2010, the committee had some $25 million cash on hand.

“We want to be able to operate on that scale in a year when there’s 37 races,” Ayers said. “You need a lot more money. You also need more people.”

The DGA is taking the opposite approach, keeping its overhead low and directing money toward vulnerable incumbents. In December, it gave $500,000 of the $23.1 million it raised to embattled Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D), campaign finance reports show.

“There’s nothing that makes our governors or our donors happier than knowing that our overhead is minimal,” Daschle said. “Generally, it’s not a bragging point to talk about how much overhead you have as a campaign committee. We’re actually leaner than we were in 2006.”

Still, Daschle said he expects the DGA to help Democrats compete in expensive states such as Florida, which he called “ground zero” of the redistricting battle.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is running for Senate and faces a competitive primary against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. The internal GOP struggle has overshadowed the campaign for the open governorship.

“I think that the drama unfolding in the Senate race only helps us,” Daschle said. “That Republican Party is in shambles. They just kicked out their chair.

If people want to focus on Republican infighting, that’s all the better for us. We don’t need the attention right now.”

He said the internal struggle the Florida GOP is going through is emblematic of wider divisions within the party nationally.

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“The Tea Party-versus-mainstream Republican struggle that we see all over the country is taking place in Florida, and it’s hurting the Republican Party in both of those races,” Daschle noted.

Ayers shrugged off the suggestion that competitive Republican primaries in states like Michigan, California and Iowa will hurt their eventual nominees.

“I’ve never subscribed to the notion that a primary affects you adversely in the general election,” Ayers said. “It’s a clear sign that we have a lot of people energized to run on our ticket because they believe we can win. I think it was absolutely helpful to Chris Christie in New Jersey.”