The top 10 states to watch in redistricting

March 19, 2011
By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post

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 Republicansoverreached 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.

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