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It’s redistricting roulette in upstate New York

at 12:58 PM ET, 08/05/2011

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 New York. (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 and Tennessee.)

After former congressman’s Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) resignation in June, a whole bunch of members of Congress in the New York metro area breathed a big sigh of relief.

The state is losing two congressional districts before 2012;  Weiner essentially sent his district to the gallows, relieving the anxiety of downstate politicians of being targeted. But, when it comes to upstate New York everyone is still holding their breath about where the seat will be removed.

One of the state’s nine upstate districts will be destroyed. That much we know. But, the rest is fuzzy.

The Fix aims to bring clarity in all political matters so below is a look at how the situation Upstate could be resolved. Of course, the redistricting process in New York won’t start in earnest until next year so this situation could could in any number of directions.

 Before we get to that, though, make sure to take a look at the current congressional map to get a sense for where things stand,

There are a few relatively safe assumptions we can make at the start:

1. Since the state is losing two seats and control of the state legislature is split, each party is likely to lose one seat. Since Weiner’s district is a Democratic one, it follows that the Upstate district that gets cut will likely be a Republican one.

2. Both parties have seats that they would like to shore up. For the Democrats, that’s newly minted Rep. Kathy Hochul in the conservative western New York 26th district, Rep. Tim Bishop in the swing 1st district on Long Island and Rep. Bill Owens in the massive northern New York 23rd district. For the GOP, it’s Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle in the Democratic-leaning 25th district, Rep. Richard Hanna in the neighboring 24th, Rep. Chris Gibson in the eastern 20th, Rep. Nan Hayworth in the exurban 19th and potentially Rep. Michael Grimm in the Staten Island-based 13th. That means both sides have plenty to negotiate over apart from which district gets the axe.

3. The window for completing the process is likely to shrink, given that the state needs to move its primary from September to either August or June in order to give it enough time to process military ballots. That moves up the filing deadline, which shortens the timeframe for redistricting by up to three months.

4. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who wants the state legislature to pass a bill creating a redistricting commission but has been stymied so far, has threatened to veto any plan created by the state legislature that includes gerrymandered — a.k.a. drawn to favor a political party — districts. If he does so, the matter would go to the courts, where things get much more unpredictable.

With all that in mind, who are the most likely upstate targets?

* Hochul: Her win threw a big wrench into the line-drawing since her 26th district was seen as probably the easiest to eliminate before GOP Rep. Chris Lee’s Craigslist fiasco. But cutting Hochul now is unlikely, given that would mean both of the eliminated districts would come at the expense of Democrats. (It’s basically impossible to cut a Republican in the New York metro area, so the GOP district would have to come out of Upstate.)

* Buerkle: Her Rochester-to-Syracuse 25th district would seem like a good candidate to be decimated. Buerkle was not one of the GOP’s favored candidates in 2010, she holds down the most Democratic district currently held by a Republican, and she’s right in the middle of the state, making parceling her seat to others relatively easy. At the same time, Buerkle’s district is a top target for Democrats, who feel that they can win it back even under the current lines and who may push for another district to be eliminated. If Buerkle’s district is cut, the Democratic Syracuse area could be used to shore up Owens to the north, while the rest of her district could help Hanna to the south and west.

* Hanna: Like Buerkle, Hanna has the unhappy distinction of being in the middle of the state and coming from a competitive district. If legislators target his 24th district for extinction, they could give more of the Democratic area near Ithaca to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) whose district currently extends a finger into the area and who had an unexpected close call in November. It would also legislators to give more Republican parts of his district to shore up Buerkle, while Owens would likely take on some of Syracuse-based Onondaga County from Buerkle. (Important note: Buerkle is from Syracuse, so she may not like it. But there are lots of Democrats in the area.)

A potentially better solution here is to create a district with equal parts of Buerkle’s and Hanna’s territory and give both of them a fighting chance to win a Republican-leaning district in a Member versus Member contest. That could be difficult, though, given that the district couldn’t include too much of Onondaga County and still be Republican-leaning.

* Gibson: The problem with eliminating Gibson’s 20th district is that he is surrounded by Democrats. He shares a little border space with Hanna and Hayworth, but much of his Republican territory would have to go to Owens, Hinchey and Rep. Paul Tonko (D). Tonko, in particular, would really have to take one for the team by taking on Saratoga County, which Owens wouldn’t want.

* Reed: Hochul’s win was good news for Reed, because shoring up Hochul means shoring up Reed’s western New York 29th district. The best move for Democrats appears to be packing as many Republicans as possible into Reed’s 29th district and grabbing whatever Democrats they can for Hochul. This is especially tough though because of the population losses in the western part of the state. Reed will likely need to expand east and could pick up territory from either Buerkle or Hanna if their seats are eliminated. Eliminating Reed and expanding Buerkle and Hanna west would be a difficult task, however, since Buerkle and Hanna are from the eastern parts of their districts.

* Hayworth: Like Gibson, she is basically surrounded by Democrats. But the Demorats she’s surrounded by are safer and could take on some of her Republicans if they really needed to. Hinchey and Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey could add the more Democratic areas of Westchester and Orange Counties, while the other, more Republican areas of Hayworth’s district could be thrown into Gibson’s district to shore him up.

Given the number of potential outcomes, the truth is that no one really knows what’s going to happen in upstate New York. What we do know is that it contains some of the most competitive districts in the country, and is likely to continue to, regardless of whose district is cut.

All six of the incumbents mentioned above — with the possible exception of Reed — will continue to have to watch their backs even if they aren’t the odd man (or woman) out.

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