House races

New redistricting data suggests Republicans could gain ground

Redistricting projections indicate a bright future for the Republican Party.

GOP-leaning states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah are poised to reap the benefits of a population shift and gain a House seat each after the 2010 census, according to a new report from Election Data Services (EDS). Republican-friendly Texas could gain as many as four seats.

{mosads}Meanwhile, Democratic-leaning states such as Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey are poised to lose one congressional seat apiece, if the projections hold true, while New York and Ohio could lose two seats each.

Observers warn early projections don’t always come to pass.

“You have to be cautious with those numbers,” said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the California-based Rose Institute who studies redistricting. “We know for certain that Texas will pick up a few seats. Other than that, everything is projections, and everyone’s projections are always wrong — it’s a matter of, how wrong are they?”

EDS, a bipartisan firm that specializes in the census and redistricting for state and local governments, released the new projections Sunday night.

The study also found Washington state and Nevada could gain a seat while Louisiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania could lose one.

The new congressional map won’t be drawn until 2011 and will go into effect for the 2012 midterm election.

With their veto power, governors play a key role in the redistricting process, and both parties are scrambling to ensure they hold the keys to a majority of mansions after November. There are 37 governors’ offices up for grabs in 2010; Democrats control 19 of them.

“We want to see a fair redistricting process,” said Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association. Republicans “are saying they want to gerrymander their way to 30 seats in Congress.”

“Florida and Texas are enormous parts of our effort this year,” she added, also citing Ohio and Minnesota, which both have competitive gubernatorial contests. And it’s possible Minnesota could lose one of its eight House seats.

Meanwhile, Republicans are confident they’ll win governors’ races in several key states.

“The RGA will win an overwhelming majority of governors’ races in states projected to be reapportioned next year,” said Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

Schrimpf also noted that “there’s a reason [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel put control of the census in the White House — he knows the reapportionment process is critical to controlling the House for the next decade.”

Schrimpf was referring to the decision to place the census under the purview of the White House instead of the Commerce Department, where it was based. The controversial decision was one of the reasons Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) cited when he withdrew his nomination for Commerce secretary.

{mosads}In Florida, where Republicans hold a healthy majority in the state legislature, it’s the governor’s race, between state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) and self-funder Rick Scott (R), that will exert the most impact on the state’s new congressional map.

The state legislature draws the map after 2010, but the governor has veto power over the plan, which means a win for Sink will give Democrats a powerful statewide voice in the redistricting process.

The unexpected addition of a second congressional seat before 2012 also increases the focus on two reform initiatives that have made Florida’s November ballot. Amendments 5 and 6, pushed by a group called Fair Districts Florida, would make it tougher for legislators to gerrymander districts by forming a nonpartisan panel to redraw district boundaries.

There appears to be a head of steam behind the initiatives, but two longtime members of Congress are united against the reform proposals and have launched a group committed to spending some $4 million in opposition. Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) are heading an effort to defeat the amendments, arguing that they would reduce minority representation in Congress.

It’s Texas where the redistricting stakes could be highest this fall. Republicans stand on the verge of controlling all the levers of redistricting power for the second straight round of reapportionment.

The great hope for Democrats is Houston Mayor Bill White (D), who is swimming against the national political tide in 2010 by waging a surprisingly competitive challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Should White win the governor’s race, it would give Democrats a counterbalance to the GOP in a state that’s currently projected to gain as many as four new congressional seats.

Also troubling for Democrats is that they trail in gubernatorial races in states that will shrink their congressional delegations. Republican candidates are leading in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to recent polls, with both states slated to lose a seat. Moreover, Gov. Chet Culver (D) in Iowa and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in Illinois are both trailing by double digits in recent surveys, despite holding office in states where Democrats have an edge in party registration.

The new population data, which are based on newly released census data from earlier this summer, also reveal a number of states teetering on the edge of either losing or gaining another seat. Slight shifts in population could save Missouri a congressional seat, or lose one for Oregon.

Right now, the estimates for both states rely on a population shift of fewer than 40,000 people.

Tags Corrine Brown

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