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Pennsylvania, other states in tug of war before congressional redistricting

Republicans in Pennsylvania are doing everything they can to get political novice Eli Evankovich elected to the state legislature.
Republicans in Pennsylvania are doing everything they can to get political novice Eli Evankovich elected to the state legislature. (Eli2010.com)
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The power to tailor district lines to partisan demographics could offer either party an advantage of 16 to 35 seats in Congress, redistricting experts say. Gillespie estimates that legislative races in 16 states could effectively control the redrawing of districts for nearly 200 congressional seats.

Among the battleground states slated to lose or gain congressional seats, and where at least one chamber holds a fragile majority, are Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

Nowhere is the intensity felt more than in Pennsylvania, which could lose a couple of seats because of population losses, making each party desperate to have a voice when the boundaries are redrawn.

Democrats are trying to hold on to the House and the governorship at a time when the western part of the state has been trending Republican. With the state Senate likely to remain Republican, and the gubernatorial race a tossup, Democrats' best hope is for a strong showing in the eastern part of the state.

Although Indiana is not slated to lose or gain seats, it is also considered a priority state because Republicans have made it clear they want to redraw districts to minimize Democratic congressional success. The state has a Republican governor and a Republican Senate -- and Democrats control the House by a mere four seats. "If we want a seat at the table, we have to retain control," House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer said.

Democratic advantage

Nationwide, Democrats enter the fray with some initial advantages, according to operatives on both sides of the aisle.

After being at a distinct disadvantage in 2000, Democrats have spent the past decade building up majorities in state legislatures. Control became a higher priority when Republicans, after winning control of the Texas legislature in 2002 for the first time in 130 years, completed a controversial mid-decade congressional redistricting.

"There was concern that this could happen in other states," said William Burke, executive director of the Foundation for the Future. "We are much better prepared."

According to Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which raises money and provides political support for legislative campaigns, the Democrats have gone from controlling 43 chambers in 2002 to 60 today.

The Democrats' biggest challenge is defending those majorities. Today, in 18 states where the legislature is key to redistricting, the party in control is ahead by four or fewer seats. Democrats control 11 of those.

Fundraising for little-known candidates has been challenging for both parties since 2003, when the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, known as McCain-Feingold, limited the national parties' ability to contribute to state races. Fundraisers have been forced to turn to high-dollar donors, whose contributions to state candidates do not face the same limits and reporting accountability that apply to campaigns for Congress or the White House. One donor in Texas, Bob Perry, for example, has given $2 million to the Republican Governors Association.

But fundraisers say that, for the most part, donors prefer to contribute to congressional races because they're high-profile.

"Our job is to try to go to ordinary people not usually involved, to translate the importance of redistricting," Ickes said. "It's a lot of work."

Research director Lucy Shackelford and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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