States in play: An early look at 2011 redistricting

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Census Bureau gave political junkies a gift last week with the release of its latest population estimates, data that give very good indications of which states are set to gain congressional seats and which will lose them in the 2011 redistricting process.

According to Polidata projections (the best in the business), eight states are positioned to gain one or more seats in the remapping and 10 states are slated to lose a seat or more.

The gainers are, not surprisingly, primarily in the South and Southwest, the regions that have been growing fastest for much of the past two decades. Among the eight states -- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington -- Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature in five. Control in Nevada is split, while Arizona and Washington use independent commissions to draw their lines, taking their legislatures and governors out of play.

The losers -- again, not surprisingly -- come from the Northeast and the industrial Midwest (a.k.a. the Rust Belt). In five of the 10 states -- Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania -- the parties split control of the governorships and legislatures, while in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, Democrats control the state government. Iowa and New Jersey use independent redistricting commissions.

Governor's races next year in six states are absolutely critical to both parties' hopes for redistricting. These states are large in population and, depending on the party affiliation of the governor, could see major shifts to one side or the other in the line-drawing process.

Republicans' major opportunities lie in the heart of the Rust Belt, in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Michigan, Republicans are heavily favored to win the open-seat governor's race and already control the state Senate. The large Democratic majority in the state House, however (66 Democrats, 43 Republicans) virtually ensures that the GOP won't have sole control over the line-drawing.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) looks increasingly vulnerable. If he winds up losing to former congressman John Kasich, Republicans would have an unexpected power base to go with their control of the state Senate. Given that Ohio is losing two seats, the stronger Republican hand could make a huge difference in which House incumbents get the tougher draws.

Ditto for Pennsylvania, where Republicans hold a solid majority in the state Senate while Democrats control a far narrower margin in the state House. With Gov. Ed Rendell (D) term-limited out of office and history suggesting that a Republican victory is likely for the state's top office, expect a major push in the state House as the national GOP tries to take full power, with the state likely to lose a seat in 2011.

Democrats have opportunities of their own in these critical states. In Texas and Florida, a win in the governor's races would give the party a seat at the table with the Republican majorities in the state legislatures.

That is of particular import in Texas, which is slated to gain as many as four congressional seats in 2010. A mid-decade redistricting a few years ago virtually wiped out white Democratic House members in the state, and without some say over the process in 2011, Democrats may not be able to fully capitalize on the vast growth in the Hispanic population. That's why the decision of Houston Mayor Bill White to switch from the Senate race to the gubernatorial contest was so critical to Democrats nationwide; although White is an underdog, his candidacy gives the party a real chance to control the Texas governorship come 2011.

Minnesota is another major Democratic opportunity, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) stepping aside and Democrats in strong control of the state Senate (a 25-seat majority) and the state House (a 40-seat majority). The two parties are headed for very crowded primary races, but Democrats have to like their chances, given the lean of the state: Barack Obama won by 10 points in 2008.

The census numbers remind anyone who may have forgotten that the 2010 governor's races are, without question, the central fight in the long-term battle between the two parties for national dominance. With redistricting on the horizon, if one side is able to sweep a majority of the six states mentioned above, it could reap the rewards for the next decade or more.

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