Redistricting: 'The next decade of our democracy is on the ballot' in November

Redistricting: 'The next decade of our democracy is on the ballot' in November
© Hill illustration

Democrats know it's critical for them to reverse their two most catastrophic defeats in modern times: four years ago and 2010.

Many Democrats see defeating Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE as an existential matter. Based on polls, fundamentals and reporting — even with the caveat of an election four and a half months away — this is likely; the main question may be whether Joe BidenJoe BidenRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE wins by four or five points or double digits.

The other painful contest was 2010 when Republicans outspent and outsmarted the Democrats to score smashing victories not only in congressional races, but in most state legislatures across the country. This set the stage for right wing victories on abortion, labor rights and health care and critically enabled Republicans to dominate the post-2010 census redistricting on congressional and state legislative election lines.

ADVERTISEMENT

Mark Gersh, the foremost Democratic expert on House contests, tells me he figures this delivered an additional 20 to 30 House seats to the GOP for most of the decade. (The best book on the legal but sleazy 2011 tactics was by David Daley, entitled “Ratf**cked.”)

But Democrats have chipped away at this disadvantage the last few cycles and know that 2020 is the climax for next year's redistricting. “This is the last chance to determine who will have a seat at the redistricting table in 2021,” says Kelly Ward, who directs the Democrats’ national redistricting committee with the active support of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden, Harris tear into Trump in first joint appearance The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden, Harris's first day as running mates It's Harris — and we're not surprised MORE.

Early estimates are that states like Texas, Florida, and North Carolina will gain additional House seats, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota California will be among the losers.

This November, 87 of the 99 state legislatures are on the ballot. The top targets are the North Carolina legislature and the Texas House.

North Carolina Republicans have forcefully used, often abused, their majorities for partisan gains the last decade. They drew election lines giving them an almost untouchable advantage — until courts ruled this was racist-tinged and a partisan overreach.

ADVERTISEMENT

With the forced redrawn congressional lines, still tilting against Democrats, the GOP likely will lose a couple seats from its current 10 to 3 advantage. In the state legislative chambers, Republicans have a 29 to 21 edge in the state senate and 64 to 55 in the state house.

The state legislature totally controls redistricting, and if Democrats capture majorities, it could mean one or two congressional seats.

North Carolina is the epicenter of the 2020 election, with a competitive presidential race, contested gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, a couple House contests and these critical legislative races.

Texas has been moving Republican, first gradually then decisively, since Lyndon Johnson left the presidency a half-century ago. Currently, Republicans hold 23 of the 36 U.S. House seats and are up 82 to 68 in the Texas House of Representatives.

But the demographics are working for the Democrats with the greatest population gains among citizens of color and the populous suburbs moving away from the Trump Republican party. Congressman Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBeto O'Rourke calls Texas GOP 'a death cult' over coronavirus response Hegar, West to face off in bitter Texas Senate runoff Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump MORE gave incumbent Republican Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFiorina: Biden picking Harris for VP 'a smart choice' Russian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report After trillions in tax cuts for the rich, Republicans refuse to help struggling Americans MORE a scare two years ago. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Harris make first public appearance as running mates Trump campaign spox rips GOP congressman over rejection of QAnon conspiracy Biden hits back after Trump's attacks on Harris MORE cut the presidential margin almost in half — to nine points — last time. Joe Biden is likely to be more competitive in Texas this November.

There are nine state House seats, currently Republican-held — that either Clinton or O'Rourke carried. Winning those would give Democrats control of the state house and leverage in the next redistricting, when the state will pick up at least two, maybe three, seats.

Another battleground will be Wisconsin, where Republicans have used their control for excessively partisan purposes, the latest forcing voting be held in April during the pandemic. The current Republican controlled state legislature already is playing games, proposing to basically cut the Democratic Governor and any federal courts out and leaving any final redistricting decision to the conservative state Supreme Court.

The states that will lose a congressional seat after the next census — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota — are getting attention too. These states now have Democratic governors. In Michigan, which has adopted a redistricting commission, the focus is on races for the state Supreme Court to fend off legal challenges to the commission.

One bitter partisan battle in the state legislatures had been over Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid benefits for lower income people. But the opposition has weakened, and only 14 states now refuse that extra aid; the only state where this election would make a difference here is North Carolina.

But in the larger picture, Kelly Ward told me: “It's not an exaggeration to say the next decade of our democracy is on the ballot this November.”

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.