Michigan map highlights GOP redistricting challenges

at 01:33 PM ET, 06/20/2011

Michigan Republicans released an entirely unsurprising draft congressional map on Friday, with the two big changes being the drawing together of Democratic Reps. Sandy Levin and Gary Peters and the shoring up of GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.

But a closer look at the proposed map shows it as illustrative of the redistricting challenges the GOP faces this year.

Republicans control nine of 15 congressional districts in what is otherwise a blue state. And with Republicans in charge of the entire redistricting process and the state set to lose a seat prior to 2012, GOP strategists and elected officials are essentially stretching their districts even further in order to save all of their incumbents.

But they just can’t do all that much. The result is a map on which the GOP did itself some good where it could, but was largely limited in a lot of cases.

McCotter was in need of the most help, and his swing 11th district improves by about four points if you look at Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) numbers in the 2008 presidential race, according to Republican performance numbers obtained by The Fix.

The two most vulnerable Republicans besides McCotter – freshman Reps. Dan Benishek in the 1st and Tim Walberg in the 7th – meanwhile each improve by less than 1 percent, according to McCain’s numbers, leaving them potentially vulnerable to strong Democratic challenges.

In fact, McCotter’s is the only GOP district that improved by multiple percentage points. And, Republicans now have a map on which they are favored to win nine districts, but only two of them went for McCain in 2008 – and neither went more than 50 percent for the GOP presidential nominee. That’s 14 districts, and McCain only broke 50 percent in two of them – barely.

Given the lack of a McCain effort in Michigan in 2008 — there was essentially none — those numbers can be deceiving, however. In fact, all nine Republican-held districts in the state went at least 54 percent for President Bush in 2004, so they clearly favor the GOP.

But the fact that they voted for Obama in 2008 and the two seats that were held by Democrats until the 2010 election didn’t get much better means the GOP will probably have to defend them in the coming years.

Republicans did get their shots in, of course. They successfully drew together Peters and Levin in the new 9th district, while sending the Democratic parts of Peters’ district into the new combined district and Rep. Hansen Clarke’s (D-Mich.) majority-black, Detroit-based 14th district. The GOP parts, meanwhile, went towards helping McCotter. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel has talked about Peters running against McCotter instead of Levin, but neither appear to be great options.

The other major benefit for Republicans in the new map was that former Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer’s home was drawn out of Walberg’s district. So, even though the incumbent didn’t get shored up much, a major potential opponent of Walberg’s has been weakened. (Interesting to watch: Schauer is now in freshman GOP Rep. Justin Amash’s 3rd district, which actually got worse for Amash and could be winnable under the right set of circumstances.)

This is the position the GOP will be in in a lot of states – picking their spots and doing what they can to shore up their most vulnerable members, with small but significant victories in certain places and not much help in others.

As we noted last week, that ability to shore up will be limited in a lot of places, and Michigan is a great example of that.

 
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