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Redistricting could end careers of tea party firebrands

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After declaring his intentions to run against Rep. Randy Hultgren in the Republican primary for Illinois’ 14th district, Rep. Joe Walsh is reportedly considering running in the redrawn 8th.

He’s not the only tea party firebrand who came to prominence (and Congress) in 2010 but could be gone by this time next year thanks — or no thanks — to the decennial redistricting process.

Illinois just extended the filing deadline for congressional candidates, and that’s given Walsh a little more time to reconsider the difficult choice created for him by redistricting: a nasty primary versus an uphill race in a Democratic district.

Manuel Balce Ceneta

AP Photo

Rep.-elect Joe Walsh, R-Ill. speaks to the media during a news conference at the GOP headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010.

“The court’s decision to push back the filing timeline is clearly giving Walsh time to reconsider his options,” said one Illinois Republican.

Sources say that Walsh is interested in a future statewide run, and might be hoping to look like a team player by bowing out of a contentious primary. Staying undecided also might help him raise money from donors reluctant to fund a GOP civil war.

While Walsh is the most prominent tea party figure facing a redistricting-forced rock-and-a-hard-place decision, he isn’t the only one.

The Texas map drawn by federal judges turns the 27th district, which Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) currently represents, into a Democratic-leaning, majority Hispanic seat.

If this map holds, Farenthold is expected to run in the new 34th, a Republican-friendly seat with no incumbent. But given the cuts to other GOP seats, a tough primary battle is likely, and Farenthold represents very little of the 34th.

And, in Florida the Republican-drawn map, which has to adhere to a new fair redistricting law, makes a tough reelection fight for Rep. Allen West (R) even tougher. His seat goes from one Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have won 48 percent to one in which the 2008 GOP nominee would have won just 44 percent. 

While it’s just a first draft, the Republicans’ decision to weaken West doesn’t bode well for his chances under the final GOP plan. 

Freshmen are generally more vulnerable in redistricting, lacking the senority to fight for safer seats. Outspoken tea party conservatives are in even more danger, because even in GOP-controlled states, establishment politicians are usually the ones drawing the maps.

No matter where they decide to run, all three of these surprise victors are getting little protection — from courts, Democrats or even the GOP.

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