Republicans' allies eye state legislatures as redistricting nears

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010; A02

Seeking to capitalize on the excitement among Republican potential donors after Scott Brown's stunning capture of a Senate seat in Massachusetts last week, two independent groups focused on helping the party regain state legislative majorities before next year's nationwide redistricting are significantly ramping up their efforts.

The American Majority Project (AMP) is the new kid on the block, a 527 group -- meaning it is allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions -- formed in recent days with the backing of Republican heavyweights such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and an advisory board that includes former congressman Robin Hayes (N.C.), former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan and GOP superlawyer Ben Ginsberg.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which has been around since 2002 to help aid GOP candidates running for state legislatures and other state offices, is getting something of a makeover -- bringing on former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie as its chairman and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) as its vice chairman.

"Targeting 35 to 40 state legislative races this cycle could translate into 25 to 32 U.S. House seats over the next five cycles," Gillespie said. "It makes a lot of sense to get this right."

Sources familiar with the two groups insist that while their missions are the same, there will be enough room for both in what has been a drastically underserved area with the Republican Party. And, with Republican donors more excited about the party's prospects than they have been in the past several elections, there should be enough cash to go around.

The RSLC, which spent $22 million on state legislative and down-ballot races in 2008, will have a $40 million budget in 2010, Gillespie said. The AMP's budget is also in the tens of millions, according to sources familiar with the planning, although no hard number has been set.

As they have at the federal level, Republicans have seen their power wane in state legislative chambers in recent years. According to a summary document from the AMP, Republicans went from controlling 53 chambers in 2002 to holding majorities in just 36 after the 2008 elections. Democrats, meanwhile, have gone from majority control of 43 chambers in 2002 to 60 today.

"These gains, if unchanged, in 2010 will allow Democrats to redraw Congressional districts to be favorable to their candidates," reads the AMP memo. "This could allow a 50-seat structural shift in the national Congressional landscape."

In most states, the congressional lines will be drawn by the state legislature and approved by the governor after the reallocation of seats based on population shifts as documented in the 2010 census. A handful of states -- including Arizona and Iowa -- employ nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to draw the lines in hopes of ridding the process of politics.

Democrats have long known the importance of focusing time and money on state legislative races -- particularly in the ones directly preceding an election year. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee keeps a watchful eye on the state of play in legislatures, and a decade ago Democrats formed Impact 2000, a group tasked with monitoring the reapportionment process.

"Over the last four election cycles, Republican efforts have been unsuccessful in stopping Democrats from winning these elections and taking control in key states," said James Erp, who will run the AMP. "American Majority Project and its experienced leadership will help Republicans and like-minded groups fight back and retake control of the redistricting process."

Is Beau a no-go?

A Delaware columnist says Vice President Biden told him that his son Beau Biden, the state attorney general, does not want to run for his former Senate seat -- a startling admission that, if correct, could hand the spot to Republicans in the fall.

"If you run into Beau, talk him into running; he respects you," Biden reportedly told Wilmington News-Journal columnist Harry Themal at the end of a recent interview. Themal said he responded that he didn't think Beau Biden wanted to run, to which the elder Biden responded: "I don't think he does, either. I know he doesn't want to."

The vice president's office provided the Fix with a transcript of the relevant part of the interview in which, it insists, it's clear that Biden is talking not about his son but about interim Sen. Ted Kaufman, a longtime ally of the vice president. "Talk Ted into running, if Beau doesn't," Biden is reported to have said. "Talk him into running -- he respects you."

Even in Biden's version of events, however, it's clear the vice president is seeking a Plan B in the event his son decides against the race. For months, Beau Biden has been cast as a certain candidate by Senate Democratic strategists, but in recent weeks, his hesitation to formally announce his candidacy has stoked speculation that he is reconsidering.

Those close to Beau Biden have acknowledged that his timeline for deciding to challenge Rep. Mike Castle (R) has been delayed because of an ongoing high-profile case the AG's office is handling regarding a pediatrician accused of molesting patients.

House Democrat to retire

Rep. Marion Berry (Ark.) is expected to announce Monday that he will not seek reelection this year, according to three sources briefed on the decision.

He will become the sixth House Democrat in a competitive seat to make a departure announcement in two months but the first since the party's loss of a Senate seat in a Massachusetts special election last Tuesday.

Berry, first elected in 1996, had been noncommittal about a reelection bid for months, though aides had insisted privately that he planned to run.

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