As the 2012 election season comes close and closer to fruition Democrats remain confident they can hold the presidency and increasingly the Senate. However few Democrats are optimistic about their chances of retaking the House this November. GOP gains made in 2010 ensure that the 25 seats Democrats need to reclaim the majority will be a tough climb.
For reasons why look no further than the four states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, TX and FL. In each state Democrats made gains in 2006 or 2008. And in 2010 the GOP made significant gains in each state not just at the Congressional level but also the state level. This means the GOP controlled redistricting for all four states. At the beginning of 2010 FL was slated to gain 2 seats, TX 4 while OH was to lose 2 and Pennsylvania 1. In each case with the GOP drawing the lines they minimized their losses and maximized their gains.
In Pennsylvania the GOP had three lawmakers, Lou Baretta, Patrick Meehan and Jim Gerlach representing districts that went widely for Obama in 2008. After the redraw the GOP state legislature ensured all three now sit in safe GOP districts according to the Rothenberg Political Report. Worse for Democrats is that Rep. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz were drawn into one single district ensuring one will lose in the April 24th primary. And the district they will fight to represent is tailor-made to swing GOP in presidential elections meaning it will be a swing district for elections to come.
In Ohio, which lost two seats a GOP seat and a Democratic seat were eliminated. Yet that does not tell the whole story. The GOP took a whopping 5 seats in 2010 and the delegation flipped from 10-8 in the Democrats favor to 13-5 in favor of the GOP. In the GOP legislature’s redraw of the maps they shored up many of their gains and packed Democrats into urban districts in Cleveland and the Northeast portion of the state. Only one of the 12 GOP districts looks to be initially competitive in 2012 and possibly beyond.
Florida, with its Cuban-American population is more diverse than either PA or OH. And unlike in PA and OH the GOP controlled the state legislature before 2010. In 2010 the GOP gained three Congressional seats. And in turn with Florida gaining two new seats due to population growth the GOP was in a position to protect their gains or at least minimize their losses. Complicating matters was a ballot measure that passed restricting the legislature from passing redistricting maps based on partisan gerrymandering. The verdict is out on how the courts will interpret lawsuits to the new GOP map under this measure but the GOP has limited its losses in the state to two-three seats only. Quite a feat.
Texas saw the largest population growth in the country over the last ten years. As such it gained four seats in reapportionment. Democrats were initially giddy at this because the growth largely came among the Hispanic population. But the GOP legislature drew a map extremely favorable to the GOP. Democrats and the DOJ sued under the Civil Rights Act and it went all the way to the SCOTUS. Democrats lost the fight and the SCOTUS threw back a response that stated that 1) the District Court of SA overstepped its mandate by drawing a new map and 2) the legislature’s map should be considered in a redraw. The legislature drew a new map that was approved and it ensures after 2012 the four new seats will be split 2-2 between the parties. The original legislature’s map is pending in the Appellate Court of DC and if it was ruled to comply with the CRA than Democrats could lose yet more seats in TX.
Democrats acknowledge to some degree that the GOP has a huge advantage due to redistricting this cycle. According to a memo written by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz 80-85% of the incumbents who gained a partisan advantage in redistricting belong to the GOP. Still, some Democrats such as DCCC Chair Steve Israel argue that redistricting has essentially been a wash.
Yet the math argues otherwise. Despite Democrats making gains in the states of IL and CA with their redraws the GOP has fortified incumbents all across the country, limited their losses in Florida and is sure to gain newly apportioned seats in SC, UT and TX. The GOP also has eliminated a Democratic seats in MI, redistricted out at least two Democratic incumbents in North Carolina, one in Indiana and created a newly competitive seats in WA state. For Democrats the majority runs through extremely unfavorable suburban and rural districts in the Midwest and South they have not won since 2008. And in 2008 those districts were far more favorable to them than they are today. Shultz, in the same memo citing Republican incumbents gained most of the advantage this cycle said the likely number of seats Democrats have to pick up to win the majority is closer to 40 considering Democratic districts that were eliminated, are now open and leaning Republican and districts with Democrats running against each other.
Still Democrats contest that in November 2011, right before redistricting started in any state, 61 Republicans represented districts won by Barack Obama and 14 Republicans represented districts also won by John Kerry in 2004. After most states have redistricted Democrats argue the number is 64-18. The GOP of course argues the opposite and asserts more Republican lawmakers now sit in districts won by both Bush and McCain than before.
The trend of white men and married white women fleeing the Democratic Party has been a boon for the GOP in drawing new lines. Democrats, largely a minority-majority party composed of blacks, Hispanics and women tend to be consolidated in the urban areas of the country. Meanwhile the majority-white GOP party has its voters more scattered and has thus been able to consolidate Democratic voters in extremely left districts (witness OH). This may make for less competitive Congressional elections and make it harder for GOP presidential candidates to win but it helps ensure the GOP control of the House for the forseeable future.