The top 10 states to watch in redistricting

at 03:37 PM ET, 03/18/2011

The decennial re-mapping of all 435 congressional districts in the country (aka redistricting) is a very complicated process. Every state does it its own way, and the process is highly dependent on local elected officials whose names few people know and who, oftentimes, aren’t exactly answerable to the public.

But the relative lack of knowledge about the process is directly counter to its importance; what happens over the next year will set congressional maps for the next decade and — Republicans hope — pave the way for 10 uninterrupted years of GOP control of the House.

Regular Fix readers know about our “Mapping the Future” series, which goes through each state and how the map might be drawn.But if you don’t have time to read about every state, which are the ones you should pay the most attention to — and why?

There are a few general trends to keep an eye on.

* Watch all the big states: California, Texas, New York and Florida, combined, will account for 33 percent of seats in the next Congress. Plus, these also happen to be the states that are experiencing the biggest gains and losses in numbers of seats.

* Look at who controls the process: If Republicans control redistricting in a Democratic-leaning state (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin), there will be lots of tough and important decisions made. The same holds for states where one party controls the line-drawing process and the other has a majority in the congressional delegation (Republicans in North Carolina, and Democrats in Illinois).

* Commissions are key: Six states (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington) place the power to redistrict in the hands of a bipartisan, nonpartisan, and/or citizen-based commission. Without state legislators drawing the maps for themselves and their buddies, it can often lead to more upheaval or more competitive districts.

With these things in mind, we present to you our latest Friday Line — the top 10 state to watch in redistricting. The number one ranked state is considered the most important redistricting battleground in the country. Agree? Disagree? The comments section awaits.

10. Nevada: Could Democrats compete for all four Nevada congressional districts next year? Senate candidate Rep. Dean Heller’s (R-Nev.) large 2nd district seat is supposed to be the safe Republican district in Nevada, but President Obama nearly won it in 2008 and now, with divisive 2010 Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) running for the seat, Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge that all four Nevada seats – the state is adding one seat in Las Vegas-based Clark County – could be winnable for Democrats in 2012. With Republican currently controlling two out of three seats, that would be a big shift.

9. Michigan: Republicans currently control nine of 15 congressional districts in the Wolverine State, and they aim to control nine of 14 once that state loses a district to redistricting. Republicans must decide which Democrats they want to draw together (Reps. Gary Peters and Sandy Levin, for example) and then shore up some of their more vulnerable members, including Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and freshman Reps. Dan Benishek and Tim Walberg. In a state that is generally considered blue, holding nearly two-thirds of the congressional districts would be pretty big.

8. Pennsylvania: Ten years ago, Pennsylvania Republicans overreached in redistricting – and it cost them. Marginal seat in the Philadelphia suburbs – the 7th and 8th congressional districts – as well as western Pennsylvania districts like the 4th, were too close for comfort and Democrats took them over in 2006 and 2008. Republicans won nearly all of those marginal seats back in 2010 and control all of the levers of redistricting power heading into 2012. The state’s delegation has to shrink by a seat and the expectation is that two Democratic incumbents will be drawn together. Beyond that, uncertainty reigns. Have Republicans learned their redistricting lesson or will they go for broke again?

7. Ohio: The Buckeye State remains a central battleground in presidential politics, but its population growth isn’t keeping up with other states, and it will have to shed two of its 18 congressional districts prior to the 2012 election. Like Pennsylvania, Republicans control the process and are likely to force two Cleveland-area Democratic members to run against one another. Where the other seat disappears is less clear, although speculation has centered on southern Ohio, where Republicans made considerable gains in the 2010 election (Republicans won a total of five House seats). Beyond eliminating the two seats, Republican re-mappers are likely to focus on shoring up their many freshmen members — many who need it badly — in advance of 2012.

6. New York: Like Ohio, New York will lose two seats in redistricting. The questions are which upstate member gets the ax, and which New York City Democrat gets the ax. Democrats currently control 21 of the state’s 29 districts, but Republicans have a seat at the table in redistricting by virtue of their majority in the state Senate. This map could go a lot of different ways, and given how many districts are currently competitive, the map that is produced will have a big effect on the partisan balance of Congress. Also keep an eye on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) push for an independent redistricting commission.

5. Arizona: More than half of Arizona’s eight districts have been seriously contested over the last five years, and given that the state has an independent redistricting commission, it could very well stay that way. The state is adding one seat, which could lead to some significant changes. If the state legislature was drawing the map, we might expect all the House incumbents to get shored up significantly. While they might have friendlier districts, don’t expect that commission to pack districts too much. Considering the demographic changes occurring in this state, it will be one to watch for years to come.

4. California: For fans of competitive House races, the 2001 remapping of California was a huge disappointment. Democrats and Republicans agreed to draw a map that solidified incumbents on both sides and, as a result, only one of 53 seats changed hands over the course of the entire decade, and it only did so once. No more. Thanks to a redistricting proposition passed last fall, the task of drawing the new lines falls to a 14-citizen panel comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four voters with no party affiliation. There is still considerable uncertainty about what the panel will do, but it seems almost certain that 2012 will feature more, rather than less, competition at the congressional level. At the same time, it’s not clear that would lead to a significant change in the Democrats’ 34-to-19 advantage in the congressional delegation, because it is still a Democratic state.

3. North Carolina: The one state where the Republican wave did not crash in 2010 was North Carolina, as Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre, all targeted by Republicans, managed to win. Unfortunately for that trio, that means that redistricting could be tough on them – particularly since the process is entirely controlled by Republicans (Gov. Bev Perdue is a Democrat but has no veto power over the congressional lines). Rep. Brad Miller (D) appears to be in the most obvious trouble, but Republicans have been chafing under the map Democrats drew 10 years ago and are likely to do everything they can to go after Kissell, Shuler and McIntyre.

2. Illinois: Looking for states that could be a major boon to Democrats in redistricting? Illinois stands out as the clearest place for Democrats to score gains — and perhaps the only place. Not only do Democrats control the process, but Republicans picked up four seats and now hold an 11-to-eight edge in the delegation – an advantage not in keeping with the Democratic nature of the state. Five Republicans – Reps. Joe Walsh, Bob Dold, Bobby Schilling, Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock – could all find themselves in less friendly district come 2012. Given the relative paucity of their redistricting opportunities elsewhere, Democrats badly need Illinois to pay dividends.

1. Florida: In no state is more at stake. That’s because Republicans currently hold a ridiculous 19-to-six edge in the congressional delegation of this swing state, and voters in November passed constitutional amendments aimed at reining in the legislature’s ability to gerrymander. If those rules stick, Democrats think Republicans could lose upwards of five seats in the coming years. If they don’t, the GOP will try to draw the state’s two new districts as Republican-leaning and hope to expand its huge majority even further.

 
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