Congressional Republicans Eyeing Political Windfall in Texas

By John Rossomando | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - A Texas state judge's ruling could make Democratic chances of retaking the United States House of Representatives more difficult. In fact, the congressional redistricting map approved by Judge Paul Davis could help Republicans gain five seats in the Lone Star state alone, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Davis' ruling is not final and Democrats remain confident they will hold on to their advantage in Texas, which currently stands at 17-13. However, the NRCC estimates that the new political map approved by Davis could result in an 18-14 GOP advantage. Because of population shifts, Texas' representation in the U.S. House will increase by two seats in the next round of Congressional elections.

The new boundaries place four Democratic incumbents into heavily Republican districts according to a Texas GOP congressional staffer who wished to remain anonymous.

"You have your incumbent [Democrats] like [Charles] Stenholm who now has a 71 percent Republican district and then you go down the list, then you lose four other [Democratic] incumbents," the staffer said speaking on background.

Reports in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle indicate that the new maps negatively impact several white Democrats, including Reps. Jim Turner, Max Sandlin, Martin Frost, and Ken Bentsen. According to the Houston Chronicle, Bentsen, a Houston-area Democrat, would be forced to face off against fellow Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, whose district would also become more heavily Republican under the plan approved by Davis.

"What the map does, is it leaves your white Democrats without a seat when the music stops," the staffer said. "Your inner city minority districts are preserved and everyone else is pretty much left out in the cold."

Texas Republicans are pleased with the map, considering that the judge who chose the map was a Democrat, according to Galen Barksdale, press secretary to House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

"We feel that the map was very fair," Barksdale said. "It looks pretty good. It's not as bad as what we thought could have happened with a Democrat judge."

Barksdale indicates that Texas Republicans were concerned that Davis would choose a Democratic alternative to the plan he ultimately approved.

"It is not as good as we hoped it could be, and it is not as bad as we feared it could be," he said. "It is not so much that the judge would play partisan politics, it is just that you never know what is going to happen when you show something like that to a court.

"The maps that the Republicans have supported reflected the change in the political makeup of Texas," Barksdale said. "Texas has become a predominantly Republican state over the past twenty years or so."

According to Barksdale, Armey believes maps should be drawn in a fair manner with compact districts so that "communities of interest" are represented.

"Without gerrymandering, we should pick up seats," Barksdale said. "If it is a fair, accurate, concise, compact map, with compact districts and that sort of thing, you are going to pick up seats [because] Texas is basically a Republican state."

Barksdale said Davis' decision is not final because he has given interested parties until Tuesday to decide if they want to offer any amendments to the plan that was adopted last week. He said the final map would end up being decided by a federal court.

"If we pick up the seats that we are projected to pick up, it would definitely help the Republicans," he said. "They put some Democrat incumbents in Republican-leaning districts, but that does not mean that we have a lock on those seats."

Democrats are optimistic that they will retain their majority in the Texas congressional delegation, despite other gloomy predictions.

"I am confident that the Texas delegation's Democratic majority would be re-elected under the map Judge Davis has adopted," House Democratic Conference Chairman Martin Frost said in a statement. "However there are numerous legal problems with this map, especially its violations of Hispanic and African American voting rights."

"The map adopted ... would divide several Hispanic and African American communities to dilute their voting strength in likely violation of the Voting Rights Act," Frost said.

Frost asserted that the map adopted by Davis is "just one step in a long legal process, and everyone understands that Texas redistricting will ultimately be resolved by the federal [three judge panel] in Tyler."

Political analyst Michael Barone, author of The Almanac of American Politics, agrees the map does not bode well for the Democrats.

"He's trying to put the best face on it [because] he knows it's a bad situation," Barone said about Frost's comments. "It's a big defeat for him (Frost)."

According to Barone, the Texas redistricting decision combined with the predicted outcomes of redistricting in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida will make it next to impossible for the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives.

"I have been estimating that the Republicans [are going] to gain five to ten seats [from] redistricting," Barone said. "This looks like it [will] go more toward the ten [seat gain] side than the five [seat gain] side after this Texas [decision].

"This is the first time that the president's party [will] get a redistricting advantage in an off-year election in forty years," he said.