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The GOP’s big Texas gerrymander

at 05:45 PM ET, 06/02/2011

A new proposed congressional map in Texas goes to surprisingly long lengths to stretch the number of Republican districts in the state’s delegation.

Despite the Lonestar State voting 55 percent for Republicans in the 2008 presidential race, the GOP-controlled legislature’s proposed map features 26 districts that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out of a total of 36 districts, according to a Fix analysis based on data from the Texas Legislative Council. That’s 72 percent of districts that favor Republicans on paper.

The big changes are the four new districts the state gained in the decennial reapportionment process thanks to its rapid population growth. Of the four, three lean Republican while one is solidly Democratic. The other big change is the shifting of Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Texas) district from a strongly Democratic district to a strongly Republican one.

The new Republican-leaning districts went 53 percent, 57 percent and 58 percent for McCain, while the Democratic district went 38 percent for McCain. Doggett’s district would go from 40 percent McCain to 56 percent.

In effect, Republicans appear to be trying to give themselves a good chance to gain three of the four new seats, leaving Democrats to gain just one.

That’s a very aggressive map, given that most analysts expected Republicans to have to draw two new majority-Hispanic districts and likely hand over two of the four new districts to Democrats. (Note: They still may have to do this, as Hispanic groups and Democrats are threatening to challenge the proposal.)

Republicans have effectively created a very effective incumbent -rotection map, packing Democrats into very few districts and stretching Republican voters into as many districts as possible.

The result is a map in which there are 10 very safe Democratic seats — McCain didn’t take more than 40 percent in any of them — and 26 districts that went at least 52 percent for McCain. The fact that there is no district that went between 40 percent and 52 percent for McCain suggests a carefully crafted gerrymander.

Of those 26 McCain districts, the GOP presidential nominee took less than 60 percent of the vote in 13 of them, which suggests they could be competitive under the right set of cirumstances. But 2008 was a very bad year for the GOP, and McCain’s numbers were on the low end of what a Republican presidential — or congressional — candidate will likely get in any given election cycle.

In other words, there aren’t many (or any) bona fide swing districts.

About the closest thing to a swing district would be freshman Rep. Quico Canseco’s (R-Texas) big and rural 23rd district, running from San Antonio to El Paso. McCain’s vote share would increase from 48 percent currently to 52 percent under the new plan, though, so Canseco would have an easier time in what’s looking like a rematch with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D).

Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) may not have an easy time, either. But his South Texas 27th district would undergo significant changes and would grow seven points more Republican.

(Most of Farenthold’s current district is in what would be the new 34th district, but since most of that “new” district is from Farenthold’s current district — and the new 27th is a patchwork of other districts — we and others consider the 27th to be the new district, along with the 33rd, 35th and 36th.)

Among other Republicans, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions gets a two-point bump to a 55 percent McCain district in his Dallas-based 32nd; Rep. Mike McCaul (R) keeps a 55 percent McCain district in the 10th; and GOP Reps. John Carter, Lamar Smith, Kay Granger and Joe Barton all see their districts get less Republican.

Freshman Rep. Bill Flores (R) would take the biggest hit, with his 17th district dropping from one where McCain got 67 percent to one where he would have gotten 58 percent. Flores would be taking one for the team, in order to add Republicans to nearby districts. But besides he and Granger (6 percent drop), no other Republican would see his or her district drop more than 2 percent, according to the 2008 presidential numbers.

What it amounts to is a pretty ingenius map, if in fact it can pass the legislature and then hold up in court, where minority groups may argue that additional minority districts should be created — particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. This, it should be emphasized, is very much an open question. And remember that the last GOP redistricting plan in Texas had to be adjusted after the court ruled that a district the GOP had drawn improperly diluted the influence of Hispanic voters.

The GOP-led state legislature is expected to take up the map as early as Friday. They have the next four weeks of a special session to send a map for Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) approval.

 
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