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Saturday, July 7, 2007

The 50 State Strategy - How Dems Can Win in 2018

The arcane process of congressional redistricting has always been a political and partisan process. But, as with so many of the power-grabbing assaults on our constitutional system of checks and balances and representational democracy, the Rove/DeLay Republican Party pushed the partisan power-grabbing to new lows.

The mid-decade redrawing of Texas districts made headlines when Austin's shrinking democratic caucus fled the state to prevent the Lone Star GOP from shoving a GOP-created plan down their throats. The subsequent manhunt included DeLay appropriating Homeland Security resources to search for the AWOL legislators. Ultimately, the controversy and allegations of a DeLay-led conspiracy to expand the GOP Texas congressional numbers contributed to the downfall of DeLay and, arguably the GOP's return to minority status in the 2006 midterm election.

With Democratic resurgence in Congress and redistricting fast approaching, are the Dems poised to solidify our newly-won majorities? Or can the GOP make a comeback by taking advantage of the nation's changing demographics in 2012? Right now, the GOP has a good shot at closing the narrow gap.

Join me below the fold as I look at the redistricting ahead (and as an added enticement, there's an interactive game to play!)

In anticipation of the comments that are likely to follow from the post, I will clarify what the goal of this diary is and what it is not.

* This is NOT about whether the Democrats deserve to win more seats in the House of Representatives. As this is a blog about electing Democrats, I assume we are still all working toward this goal.

* This does NOT debate the merits of redistricting reform, although I personally believe that removing the inherently partisan process from the legislative and executive branches would be a welcome reform to create a more responsive and open Congress. The post will assume that the current rules will remain in place for reapportionment.

* I will NOT be arguing in favor of a "tit-for-tat" approach to redistricting in 2011. Just because the Republicans played dirty, doesn't mean Democrats should follow suit when we have the upper hand (as we do in many states). Americans want and deserve a cleaner and more open federal government. I believe Democrats can build a sustainable majority on the strength of our ideas and leadership - or we should.

Therefore, this analysis will review how Democrats are currently positioned across the country and how they can achieve the goal of creating a strong, sustainable majority.

As resources, I used University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato's forecasts regarding which states are likely to see a change in the size of their congressional delegations. I also relied on the Census Bureau for historical information on the state legislatures partisan breakdowns, the National Conference of State Legislatures and Voting and Democracy Research Center's FairVote.com websites for current regulations and redistricing processes.

Now is the time to evaluate the reapportionment landscape as the politicians running in the current 2007-2008 cycle will be responsible for the Congressional reapportioning. Even with the Democratic pickups in the 2006 state legislative races, Democrats are weaker now than any decennial redistricting cycle between 1960-1990, when they held a significant advantage over the Republicans at the state level. The following table breaks out the partisan control of state legislatures since 1961:


Current breakdown: Dems 23, GOP 16, Split 10

Prior to 1972, MN and NE did not have partisan legislatures. Nebraska's remains a unicameral, non-partisan legislature to this day.

Congressional redistricting is one of the most fundamental aspects of building and maintaining a political majority. This is something the Rove/DeLay Republicans were keenly aware of as witnessed by the Machiavellian mid-decade redrawing in both Texas and Georgia which suceeded in making Democratic incumbetns more vulnerable after the GOP won contol of the TX and GA legislatures. It's not a coincidence that The Peach State was one of the few states in the country where Democratic incumbents found themselves in close races - the redrawn districts diluted Democratic voting power while strengthening the GOP.

The New York Times recently reported on a powerful and fascinating new interactive game from the University of South Carolina that t illustrates how slight adjustments in how a population is divided can result in HUGE differences in partisan outcomes. Listen to the June 14, 2007 NPR story about the new game HERE.

The game starts out with the ominous quote from David Winston, a GOP cartologist who helped develop maps during the 1990 redistricting proposals:

"As a mapmaker, I can have more of an impact on an election than a campaign, [more of an impact] than a candidate. When I, as a mapmaker, have more of an impact than the voters, the system is out of whack."

I encourage you unleash your inner PoliSci geek, learn about your democracy and have fun at the same time. Check the game out at (requires Flash Player):

A Gamer's Guide to Redistricting.

The Current Redistricting Process

In 36 states, the legislature is responsible for redrawing the congressional district maps and in most the Governor wields a veto power over the new maps. There seven smallest states (VT, ND, SD, MT, WY, AK and DE) don't worry about Congressional redistricting, as they are represented by a single, At-Large member. There are seven other states (AZ, HI, ID, IA, MT, NJ, WA) that utilize a non-partisan commission to draw their maps, although both New Jersey and Iowa's legislatures do retain final approval power.

According to the Voting and Democracy Research Center's FairVote.com website, as many as 18 states have considered reforming the redistricting process in recent years. In both California and Florida - two huge states with expanding congressional representation, reapportionment reform ballot initiatives failed when put before the voters over the past two years. The question isn't resolved in the Golden State, as we are likely to see another proposal placed before the voters in either February or June 2008 primary elections. Voters in Ohio, a state with a shrinking delegation also rejected a proposal. In addition to these three large states the others that contemplated reforms this decade included Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Anyone committed to electing more Democrats at the Congressional level should understand and familiarize themselves with the reapportionment process in their home state. Resources for all states can be found at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Clearly, this makes controlling state houses and legislatures around the country important during 2011. This means the 2007-2008 election seasons are the beginning of determining who controls the levers in the redistricing process.

In 2011-2012, nearly every political jurisdiction in the nation will adjust its legislative district lines based on new information provided by the U.S. Census. Political insiders know that the way legislative lines are drawn has an impact on who wins and who loses, often compounding our problems of uncompetitive elections and unequal representation. Unfortunately, the public often is not aware of this impact and typically plays little role in redistricting. Play our Redistricting Roulette to see a first-hand demonstration of the redistricting process.


To analyze where Democrats can use the redistricting process to create competitive or Democratic-leaning districts to expand their newly won majority in the House of Representatives, I will divide the country into five regions (Northeast, South, Midwest, Interior West/Central Plains, and Pacific).

It will come as no suprise that Democrats are weakest and most vulnerable in the South and Central Plains, dominant in New England, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific with the Midwest and Interior West as the true battlegrounds. The danger lies in Dixie. The Democrats control the fewest state legislatures (by huge margins in some states) in this region. The fact that the region could pick up as many as five or six seats in 2012 will likely mean the Republicans will pick up seats as the Congressional power base migrates out of the Midwest and Northeast (where as many as eight seats could be lost!)

The fact that the states projected to gain the most seats in 2010 {Texas (+3), Florida (+2), Georgia (+1)} are dominated by Republicans putting them in the ideal position to draw districts to add to the GOP column. Just as importantly, the Republicans have a seat at the table in the states losing seats {Ohio (-2), New York (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Missouri (-1)}, which means they will be in position to protect their incumbents. If you don't think this is important, simply look at the difficulty the Dems had in winning in Ohio's GOP-drawn districts in 2006 - and understand the Pennsylvania GOP drew very favorable districts (the case was appealed to the Supreme Court)at the start of the decade, postponing Democratic victories in the increasingly blue Keystone State.

Let's make this as the starting point for the discussion: The Rethugs will be able to pick up five-six seats in the Sunbelt states of TX, FL, GA, AZ. Dems are guaranteed to lose a seat in MA (if the state loses one, of course), may lose one each in MO and OH, and will likely lose the Lousiana seat, resulting from the Katrina-related population loss in New Orleans. The demographic shift from Rust Belt to Sun Belt means Democrats need to be vigilant - and preparing now.

NORTHEAST: Dems Dominate but Little Room to Grow

Northeast (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD & DC)
Current delegation: 68 D, 24 R
Electoral votes: 117 (21%)
States Gaining/Losing Reps in 2012: MA, NY & PA likely to lose 1 each
State Legislatures: Dems control all but three chambers (DE- lower; NY & PA Senates)
Key States: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

There really isn't much more room in this region for the Democrats to grow - and with the shrinking number of overall seats, the strategy here will be to pit incumbent GOPers against one another wherever possible. The Republicans still control the PA and NY Senate, which means they have the power to block such a maneuver. Winning control of both would help prevent any loss of Democratic districts. New Jersey has an independent bi-partisan commission draw up districts, diminishing the role of the elected officials. Overall, the regional representation is likely to remain overwhelmingly Democratic with the GOP losing one or two seats due to attrition.

MIDWEST: The Battleground Where a Majority Will Be Won or Lost

Midwest (OH, WV, IN, MI, IL, WI, MN, IA, MO)
Current delegation: 47 D, 47 R
Electoral votes: 112 (21%)
States Gaining/Losing Reps in 2012: IL, IA & MO likely to lose 1, OH could lose 2
State Legislatures:
Dems control IL, IA, MN, WV
Split: IN, MI, WI
GOP controls: MO, OH
Key States: Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan

The evenly split Midwestern delegation is a very risky region for Democrats at this point. Ohio and Missouri's legislatures are still controlled by the GOP, making the loss of seats here a potential vulnerability. Holding on to the Governor's mansions in Jefferson City and Columbus will be critical, unless we can gain control of at least one chamber in each state. This will be a tall order, considering the GOP holds wide leads in all of these legislative chambers.

The Dems may have the opportunity to cut into the GOP districts in Illinois (current delegation 10D, 9R), Michigan (6D, 9R), Minnesota (5D, 3R) and Wisconsin (5D, 3R) but in order to do this, holding onto governorships and legislative control will be critical. The Midwest could swing either way - continue it's move toward the Democrats or seeing the GOP regain its footing and hold onto the seats it currently holds. If the latter occurs, the narrow Congressional majorities of the past 15 years are likely to continue through the next decade.

SOUTH: Population Shift Provides GOP Hope for the Future

South (VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, TN, KY, AR, LA, TX)
Current delegation: 56 D, 81 R
Electoral votes: 161 (30%)
States Gaining/Losing Reps in 2012: LA lose 1, TX gain 3, FL gain 2, GA gain 1
State Legislatures:
Dems control: AL, AR, LA, NC,
Split: KY, MS, TN
GOP controls: FL, GA, SC, TX, VA
Key States: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Texas

As stated previously, the South is by far the weakest Democratic region. The party's rising fortunes in practically every other region of the country are offset by stagnation (at best) and retreat in quite a few Southern state capitols. The GOP has huge majorities in Florida and Georgia, the two fastest growing states in the region. Texas, South Carolina and Virginia present Dems serious obstacles as well. The party can retain its congressional majorities without gaining seats in the region, but it can ill afford to lose any more ground in Dixie.

The South is home to the only three 2007 gubernatorial races - and the Governors in LA, KY and MS will be the first chief executives of the fifty who will preside over the next decades reapportionment process. Legislators elected THIS YEAR in these states will be drawing the maps for the congressional battles in 2018 and 2020. This is why it's disappointing to read at Raising Kaine that Democrats failed to nominate candidates in more than a handful of Assembly and Senate Districts currently held by Rethus but that Dem Gov Kaine won in 2005. But, the good news in VA is that the state GOP has been engaged in cannibalistic infighting- and Dems stand a chance of winning control of the Senate.

INTERIOR WEST/CENTRAL PLAINS: Fast Growing Latino Population May Help Dems Climb in the Mountains

Interior West & Central/Plains: (OK, KS, NE, SD, ND, MT, ID, UT, WY, CO, NM, AZ)
Current delegation: 16,D, 26 R
Electoral votes: 68 (12%)
States Gaining/Losing Reps in 2012:
State Legislatures:
Dems control: CO, NM
Split: MT, NV
GOP controls: AZ, ID, OK, KS, SD, ND, UT, WY
Key States: Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona

This is essentially two regions - heading in opposite directions. Sparsely populated, the Plains and Mountains have been GOP red over the past 40 years, with few exceptions. The GOP is firmly entrenched in the Plains but their grip on the Interior West has loosened considerably in the past couple of years. David Sirota's recent diary about GOP land policy fragmenting the GOP coalition is one factor. The libertarian streak in the 'live and let live' west is uncomfortable with the theocratic brand of Southern Republicanism ascendant in recent years. The growing Hispanic community in AZ, NV, NM and CO and their revulsion of the GOP's nativist rhetoric of the past two years has politicized the fastest growing segment of the population. The politics of the Interior West means Democrats are likely to see incremental growth in this region.

PACIFIC: There's a Reason It's Called the 'Left Coast'

Pacific: (CA, OR, WA, AK, HI)
Current delegation: 46 D, 24 R
Electoral votes: 80 (15%)
States Gaining/Losing Reps in 2012: CA to gain 1 in 2010
State Legislatures:
Dems control:CA, OR, WA, HI
Split: AK
GOP controls:
Key State: California
Democrats are nearly as strong here on the West Coast as they are in the Northeast. At least this region is one that is growing and will likely pick up seats in decades to come. (Census Trivia - California has added at least one seat EVERY decade since it entered the union in 1849). Democrats strength on the environment and the growing Latino population in California (where they will comprise a MAJORITY by 2040) means the Republicans will have make significant policy adjustments if they hope to make gains in the region.

2010 OUTLOOK - important races 2007-08

All of the governors races will be critical as will the battle for control of the following state chambers (current breakdown in parantheses):
2007 Elections
Virginia Senate (17 D, 23R) Louisiana Senate (24 D, 15R), Kentucky Senate (16 D, 21R)
New York Senate (29 D, 33 R) - and for those of you who think Bloomberg is our friend - this is where the NY GOP holds onto Congressional power - and Bloomer has been giving money to make sure they hold these seats!
Pennsylvania Senate (21 D, 9 R)
Michigan Senate(17 D, 21 R)
Ohio House (46D, 53R) Ohio Senate (12 D, 21R)
Wisconsin Assembly (47D, 52R) WI Senate (18D, 15R)
Missouri Senate (13D 21R)

The battle for Congressional control is already underway. The state legislative races are where the enduring majority will be won or lost. Let's help make the 50 State Strategy a victorious won by paying attention now.

Cross-posted at DailyKos and An Enduring Majority.

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