Campaign 2010

May 01, 2012

The Real Redistricting Story

With the redistricting process completed in nearly every state, it’s now clear that redistricting has been a wash for both parties and the playing field for Democrats remains as strong, if not stronger, than it was when redistricting began. Republican redistricting gains have been counteracted by Republican losses, prompting Speaker John Boehner to lament last week that the Republican majority is at risk and that at least 50 Members of his caucus are in serious jeopardy. Speaker Boehner is particularly concerned about "blue" states where Democrats made significant redistricting gains and where President Obama will win with comfortable margins – California, Illinois, and New York.

In early 2011, Republicans boasted that the redistricting process would be a red tsunami that would wipe Democrats off the map.  It turns out, they were wrong and now even they admit it:

"Redistricting has been a virtual wash for the parties (a better outcome for Democrats than most observers assumed at the beginning of the redistricting cycle), in part because of expected Democratic gains in California and Illinois." [Rothenberg Report, 4/6/12]

"Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), the National Republican Congressional Committee’s redistricting chairman, […] predicted that redistricting will be a wash for Republicans, when months ago it appeared they would benefit greatly." [The Hill, 12/11/11]

Now, Republicans are spinning redistricting anew, claiming that they have shored up their vulnerable Members. What Republicans fail to admit is that shoring up their new Members comes at a cost: senior Republicans – in an anti-incumbent environment – have been left more vulnerable while newly created seats favor Democrats.

In fact, because of redistricting, Democrats now have tremendous opportunities against Republicans in key states. There is now no such thing as a safe Republican seat in New York – President Obama only lost two congressional districts. In Illinois, there are now five (5) Republican held seats that voted for both President Obama and John Kerry. In California we have an opportunity to pick up three (3) to six (6) seats. And, in Florida, even the Republican redistricting plans, which are still in court, gives Democrats 3 new seats.

Finally, not all changes to districts have an equal impact on the electoral map. Adding any further advantage to an already-safe Republican will have no net effect on the number of seats Republicans win. What matters is whether the playing field has stayed strong for Democrats – and it has.

There are four major problems with the Republicans’ assertion that redistricting has changed their prospects for the fall:

1) The overall playing field has remained the same
Before the redistricting process, there were 60 seats nationwide that were controlled by Republicans that President Obama won in 2008, 14 of which were also won by Senator Kerry. Today, there are 64 new or Republican-held seats won by Obama in 2008, 18 of which were also won by Senator Kerry.  

2) Both parties won as many seats as they lost in reapportionment.
Of the 12 seats reapportioned in redistricting, seven (7) became more Democratic, four (4) became more Republican, and one (1) is now a toss-up. The seats lost had virtually the same make up, seven (7) were Democratic, three (3) were Republican, and two (2) were toss-ups. By any standard, reapportionment was a wash.

3)  Some of the seats that the GOP claims to have "made safer" or "taken out of play" were never "in play" in the first place.

Much of the commentary about redistricting has centered on incumbents, but it’s important to put any such analysis in full context. For example, the Cook Political Report has a list of 19 Republicans it calls “big gainers” because their districts’ gained five (5) or more points through redistricting. But of those 19 “big gainers”, seven (7) already had a presidential voting index (PVI) advantage of five (5) points or more before redistricting. These seats were never in play to begin with. 

There are three additional Republican Members mentioned, whose individual fate in redistricting doesn’t tell the full story:

· While Congressman Blake Farenthold (TX) is running in a much safer district than he won in 2010, a completely new and safe Democratic seat sprung from his old district;

· Congressman Paul Gosar (AZ) is listed as getting a safer seat, but what isn’t mentioned is that he vacated his current seat in the first district, which became more than 3 points more Democratic, to run in a new, more Republican seat;

· In Illinois, Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger’s redistricting gains came at a cost to Congressman Donald Manzullo (lost in the primary) and Congresswoman Judy Biggert.

4) Republicans fail to factor in formerly GOP seats that became dramatically more Democratic, or new seats that favor Democrats.
Redistricting math centered around incumbents completely neglects the Democrats' key advantage in redistricting—new and open seats. Democrats increased the number of Republican held seats Obama won in 2008 and Kerry won in 2004 through major gains in new seats, especially in California and Florida, where radically new districts were drawn that chased out incumbent Republicans.  None of these seats are factored into calculations that are based solely on incumbent gains and losses.


When non-marginal seats are removed, and Democratic gains are factored in, it's clear why Speaker Boehner is so nervous about Republicans' prospects this fall.  Of the marginal seats that were weakened, 17 are Democratic and 24 are Republican.

Weakened Republican seats are in disproportionately Democratic-leaning states like New York, California, and Illinois, which will favor Democratic House candidates. Conversely, weakened Democratic seats are disproportionately in battleground Presidential states, where Democrats will have a superior ground game.

Have some Republicans incumbents become safer? Sure. But any races that have been taken off the table for Democrats have been offset by newly endangered Republicans or brand new seats the Republicans have virtually conceded.

· Even in states where Republicans supposedly shored up their members, it came at a cost – Republicans made another of their incumbents more vulnerable. For example, in Indiana Congressman Todd Young (IN-09) was strengthened at the expense of Congressman Larry Buschon (IN-08), who was weakened.

· There are now 24 Republicans whose seats got more Democratic during redistricting – offsetting any Republican gains from "shoring up" their vulnerable incumbents. This includes seats like Elton Gallegly (CA-26), Gary Miller (CA-31), Judy Biggert (IL-11), Joe Walsh (IL-08), Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06), Chris Gibson (NY-19), Mike Coffman (CO-06), Robert Gibbs (OH-07), Steve King (IA-04), John Kline (MN-02), and others.

No matter how hard Republicans try to spin their way out of this worse-than-anticipated redistricting outcome for them, they are not giving the full picture. An objective analysis shows that the net result of redistricting is a wash.

Ultimately, the playing field contains as many opportunities, if not more, for Democrats to pick up seats now as it did before redistricting and our path to the majority remains the same.

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