Ohio GOP looks to cement 2010 gains with overhauled congressional map

at 02:49 PM ET, 09/13/2011

A proposed congressional map in Ohio would draw six of the state’s House incumbents into districts with each other, but would leave Republicans with an advantage in 12 of the remaining 16 districts.

The new map, which is set to be released Tuesday, comes courtesy of the state Republican Party, which controls all levers of the redistricting process in the Buckeye State.

Despite that power, the GOP already holds virtually every competitive district in Ohio, and with the state losing two of its current 18 seats thanks to the new Census numbers, Republicans were essentially forced to eliminate one of their districts in order to keep the other districts winnable.

In the end, the state GOP created what it hopes will be a map in which it can lock down 75 percent of the districts over the course of the next decade — giving he GOP a major advantage in one of the biggest swing states in the country.

A few highlights:

* The map creates potential matchups between three sets of Republicans. GOP Reps. Steve Austria and Mike Turner are drawn into the same Republican-leaning Dayton district; Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur are drawn into the same Democratic-leaning district spanning Cleveland to Toledo along Lake Erie; and Reps. Jim Renacci (R) and Betty Sutton (D) are drawn into the same Republican-leaning district south of Cleveland.

* So, how come there are three sets of incumbents drawn together when only two seats were eliminated? That’s because the GOP created a new, solidly Democratic district in the Columbus area. Republicans are doing this because Columbus has grown bluer in recent years, and the GOP incumbents in that region are very vulnerable as the map stands right now. The hope is that Renacci dispatches Sutton, and either Kaptur or Kucinich is replaced by a Columbus Democrat in a safe district. In other words, two Cleveland-area Democrats are swapped for a Columbus one, and the Columbus-area Republicans get safer.

* Several Republicans get shored up. Reps. Pat Tiberi, and freshman Reps. Steve Stivers and Steve Chabot get the most help, with Tiberi and Stivers giving many of their Democrats to the new Columbus district and Chabot picking up much of Warren County to the north of his suburban Cincinnati district.

According to GOP numbers obtained by The Fix, the districts held by Tiberi, Stivers and Chabot all go from seats that went 45 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race to districts that he would have won with at least 52 percent of the vote.

In the southeast, freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R) gets a little bit of help, while neighboring freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs (R) gets a better district geographically, if a slightly less conservative one. Both of their future districts lean Republican despite being held by Democrats last Congress. These will likely be the most vulnerable districts going forward, but they are populated by plenty of West Virginia-style conservative Democrats.

* Sutton and Kucinich don’t have any great options. We’ve been talking for awhile now about how Sutton was most likely to get the shaft in redistricting – even more so than Kucinich. In the end, they both suffered.

Sutton has to choose between challenging Renacci in a GOP-leaning district and running in a primary against Rep. Tim Ryan (D); in both cases, the district includes very little of her current territory. Kucinich, meanwhile, could challenge either Kaptur or Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) in her majority-black Cleveland district, but his best option might actually be running in a new district in Washington state, which coincidentally was set to release its own draft map today. (Fate?)

* It’s not immediately clear who would be the favorite in the Austria/Turner or Kaptur/Kucinich races, but Renacci would have a clear edge against Sutton in a district that would have gone for McCain in 2008 and easily for President Bush in 2004. And in the new Democratic-leaning Columbus district, former congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D) and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (D) would start as the odds-on favorites.

* It’s important to note that, while many of these Republicans get better districts under this plan, not all of them will be completely safe for the foreseeable future. Ohio is a swing state, and drawing 12 Republican-leaning districts out of 16 is not easy.

That said, Republicans have packed as many Columbus- and Cleveland-area Democrats into as few districts as possible, and will be favored to hold 75 percent of the state’s House seats in the coming years.

This is yet another example of how the GOP, which won nearly all the competitive seats along the Rust Belt in 2010, is simply looking to cement those gains rather than add new winnable seats.

We will likely see a similar map when it is released in Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls 12 of 19 House seats.

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