Chandler’s seat is focus of redistricting in Kentucky, but Democrats may want more

at 02:41 PM ET, 12/05/2011

This is the latest in a regular Fix series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it “Mapping the Future.” The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Kentucky. (And make sure to check out the previous installments: Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, North Carolina , Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, Louisiana, New Jersey, Colorado, Minnesota, South Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, New York, Arizona and Washington.)

Democrats had a good election year in Kentucky in 2011; the question now is how much that translates into redistricting.

With the race for governor as well as five other statewide downballot post now over (Democrats won five of the six), attention in the state capitol has turned to the drawing of new congressional districts.

Democrats are emboldened by those wins and hope to draw a map that will shore up Rep. Ben Chandler (D) and potentially endanger a Republican, perhaps Rep. Ed Whitfield (R), in Western Kentucky.

Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to increase their odds of defeating Chandler, who survived by less than 700 votes in 2010 and faces a rematch with attorney Andy Barr (R).

Control over the process is split with Democrats holding the state House and Republicans controlling the state Senate. (The governor — Democrat Steve Beshear — has veto power, but it’s easy for the state legislature to overturn vetoes in the Bluegrass State.)

What split control typically means is some kind of compromise between the two sides. And in Kentucky, that has generally meant allowing the congressional delegation to effectively draw its own map. Already the delegation has released a plan that would effectively keep all six members — including Chander — safe (or safer).

But leaders in the state House and state Senate don’t appear ready to simply sign off on the delegation’s plan. At least not yet.

State House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) and state Senate government committee chairman Damon Thayer (R) have each released maps that differ with the lines of the congressional delegation and give their parties a chance to grow their numbers.

While it’s not clear that the proposals have the unanimous support of their respective caucuses, they do represent a starting point for a debate that should begin in earnest after the New Year.

Let’s look at the three proposed maps side by side (by side).

* Democratic map:

The Stumbo map would have Chandler pick up more Democrats in the 6th district and give the party a good chance to even the score in the delegation, which currently includes four Republicans and two Democrats, by taking out Whitfield in the 1st.

In order to make Whitfield’s district competitive, Stumbo’s map would draw in heavily Democratic Daviess County, based in Owensboro, and draw out the more Republican counties from central Kentucky that were attached to Whitfield’s district.

Chandler, meanwhile, would get a little safer by trading counties with neighboring districts. It’s relatively easy to move Chandler’s district around, because it’s the only district in the state that doesn’t border another state. It’s also surrounded by three Republican-held districts where the incumbents would be happy to give him their Democrats.

The end result, according to a great analysis by CN-2’s Ryan Alessi, is that Chandler’s district would move about 4 percent in Democrats’ favor, while Whitfield’s district would move about 6 or 7 percent towards Democrats.

Democrats also hope to pursue Rep. Hal Rogers’ (R) eastern Kentucky 5th district eventually (likely when he retires), and the map makes small changes th party hopes can make that happen. The district is still very conservative, but it’s in an area of the country where conservative Democrats still can win. (For more on that, see here.)

* Republican map:

Thayer’s map would make small changes to make Chandler slightly more vulnerable — adding part of Scott County from Rep. Geoff Davis’ (R) 4th district and part of Lincoln County from the central Kentucky portion of Whitfield’s 1st district.

The result isn’t overwhelming — a couple thousand voters more Republican, perhaps — but it would have flipped the result of the 2010 race in Barr’s favor, according to one local analyst, and it’s a far better map for Barr than either the Democratic map or the congressional delegation’s map.

The good thing for Democrats is that while it’s pretty hard to make Chandler more vulnerable, but it’s quite easy to make him safer.

* Congressional delegation map:

This is incumbent protection at its finest, with everyone staying essentially as-is, except Chandler.

Chandler’s district would move about 5 percent more Democratic, according to Alessi’s numbers. Nobody else’s district would swing more than one or two points, and every shift improves the incumbent’s chances of winning reelection.

The question is whether state legislators are happy to let Members of Congress draw their own districts or try to do it themselves.

Democrats, for their part, are hoping that state Senate President David Williams (R) is so wounded from his big loss to Beshear in last month’s gubernatorial election that he is unable to lead his caucus effectively, opening the door for dissension in the ranks and the possible passage of the Democratic map.

Republicans control the chamber 22-to-15, though, which means Democrats would likely have to pick off at least four GOP state senators — an unlikely prospect.

We should get an idea about which direction things are headed soon. Filing ends at the end of January.

 
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