State Watch

New Hampshire Republicans advance map with substantially redrawn districts

The New Hampshire state House has given final approval to new congressional district lines that would virtually ensure a Republican and a Democrat each win one of the Granite State’s two seats in Congress over the next decade.

In a near party-line vote, the state House approved new boundary lines that substantially redraw the current districts. The existing districts, both of which have been competitive over the past decade, are carved up into new versions that give both parties a strong chance of carrying one district each.

A single House Republican voted against the GOP-drawn maps. They now go to the state Senate, where Republicans also hold a majority. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) would likely sign the maps if they win final approval in their present form.

For nearly a century and a half, New Hampshire’s congressional lines have divided the state into a western and northern district, anchored in Concord and Nashua and stretching to the border with Canada, and an eastern district based in Manchester and the Seacoast. The two districts were initially drawn that way to divide Nashua and Manchester, the state’s two largest cities — and the twin hubs of Catholic voters — to deny Catholic voters the right to elect a member to Congress.

In more recent years, Democrats have won nine of the last 10 elections in those two seats, though Republicans won 16 of the 20 elections held under largely similar district lines in the 1990s and 2000s. Former President Trump carried the Manchester-based district in 2016, though President Biden won both the 1st and 2nd districts, by a 6-point and 8-point margin respectively, in 2020. 

Republicans pointed to those election results as evidence that New Hampshire’s current district lines disadvantage their party. 

“While the minority of the committee speaks of fairness of the current districts, they have won 90 percent of the contests under the current map,” state Rep. Ross Berry, the GOP’s chief redistricting expert, said during debate on Wednesday. 

The new maps advanced by the state House would move several more Democratic-heavy communities along New Hampshire’s eastern border with Maine, including coastal Portsmouth, Dover and Durham, from the Manchester-based district and include them in the Nashua-based seat. 

The resulting district lines would likely solidify Rep. Annie Kuster’s (D) hold on the Nashua-based seat. Data from the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project estimates Kuster’s district would give Democrats an average of 53 percent of the vote in a regular election.

The Manchester-based seat would become a more heavily Republican bastion, where Democrats would average 43.6 percent of the vote, according to Princeton’s data. That would jeopardize Rep. Chris Pappas (D), who won his seat in 2018. Pappas won reelection in 2020 over Matt Mowers, a former Trump administration official, by 5 percentage points. 

Democrats cast the new district lines as a naked gerrymander, one that overturns decades of established practice and eliminates a chance at competitive elections that have been the hallmark of the swing state in recent years.

“The pending question sets up districts in order to predetermine the outcome of the election, and therefore deny the voters of this state the opportunity to decide for themselves,” state Rep. Marjorie Smith (D) said during the floor debate on Wednesday.

Mowers is one of a handful of Republicans who have already lined up to take on Pappas, who launched a reelection bid last month. He will compete with Gail Huff Brown, the former television news reporter and wife of former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who served as Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand. State Rep. Tim Baxter (R) is also running.  

The new maps are one of the most significant departures from tradition that have taken place in this decade’s redistricting cycle, given New Hampshire’s long history of an east-west divide. The overwhelmingly white makeup of New Hampshire’s population likely limits the chances national Democrats would have to sue to undo the newly proposed lines in court.

“The maps passed by the New Hampshire House today are clear partisan gerrymanders,” said Liz Wester, deputy states director at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group run by former Attorney General Eric Holder. “Instead of adhering to the will of the people, New Hampshire Republicans have decided to join the bandwagon with their partisan colleagues across the country to attempt a power grab by taking competitive districts off the map.”

Tags Chris Pappas Chris Sununu Donald Trump Eric Holder Joe Biden New Hampshire Redistricting

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