2002 Redistricting Could Spell Trouble for Democrats

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


(CNSNews.com) - Republican controlled legislatures in large, politically important states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan have several Democratic incumbents in their crosshairs as they finalize their 2002 congressional redistricting plans.

But while redistricting could spell trouble for the Democrats in those states, the party might be able to achieve gains in other states.

"In reapportionments, Republicans have felt that the process favored them," said Dr. Robert Speel, assistant professor of political science at Penn State Erie, and 2002 will not be an exception, he said.

Republicans have a distinct advantage over Democrats in the redistricting process for the first time since the 1950s because of GOP gains in state legislatures since 1994, according to Michael Barone, author of "The Almanac of American Politics."

"My estimate is that the redistricting will have a distinct five to ten seat Republican advantage," Barone said. "In states such Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, they are clearly out to reduce the number of Democratic seats."

Since those states will lose congressional seats as a result of a drop in their census figures, Republican lawmakers have the opportunity to redraw political boundaries and force two Democratic incumbents to face off against each other.

The GOP controlled state legislature in Pennsylvania will also try to strengthen Republican control of the state's congressional delegation by forcing several Democrats to run against each other for re-election, and through the creation of a new GOP dominated district.

"The Republicans have decided that they are going to take the ten Democratic seats and carve them up in a way to reduce [the Democratic] seats to the lowest number that they possibly can," said Dr. Terry Madonna, professor of political science. "Pennsylvania loses two [seats], so the obvious thing is to get two seats of Democrats to run against each other, and that they will do in the Pittsburgh area, where they will make Bill Coyne run against Mike Doyle.

"In the eastern part of the state, they are going to force representative Paul Kanjorski, who represents the Wilkes-Barre area to run against Tim Holden who represents Berks and Schuylkill count[ies]," he said.

Madonna also indicates that the GOP legislature will force Democratic Reps. Joe Hoeffel and Robert Borski to face off against each other following the elimination of a suburban Philadelphia congressional district under the Republican plan.

"They will create that [new] district in a way that Borski [has] the clear advantage," Madonna said. "The Republican hope is that Hoeffel will lose and Borski will win."

He said Republicans are creating a new congressional seat in Chester and Berks counties for Republican State Sen. Jim Gerlach to run. According to Madonna, this will leave the Republicans with an 11 to 8 lead in the state's congressional delegation.

"Similar things are happening in Michigan and Ohio, [where] Congressman David Bonior (D-Mich.), the Democratic Whip in the leadership is now running for governor [because of redistricting]," Barone said. Bonior would have had to run against fellow Democratic incumbent Sander Levin if he chose to run for re-election.

The Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) has also reported that the redistricting plan will force the dean of the U.S. House, Rep. John Dingell, to run for re-election against Democratic Rep. Lynn Rivers and for Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak and Jim Barcia to run against each other.

According to Barone, Florida Republicans aim to draw two new congressional districts in areas of the state where the GOP is dominant, but he dismissed published reports that Florida Democrats Robert Wexler and Peter Deutsch will be forced to run against each other in the 2002 primary.

Democrats hope to marginalize losses in these states by picking up congressional seats in other states that are more favorable to them.

"The Democrats hope for at least marginal gains perhaps in North Carolina and Georgia," Barone said. "I think that they'll gain at least a seat in Georgia, which gained two seats [in the reapportionment], and similarly with North Carolina, and the Democrats will try to make that [seat] theirs."

"In California it looks like they are going to have an incumbent protection plan with the Democrats getting the sole new seat," he said.

But Greg Speed, spokesman for the Democratic Party's Impact 2000, said Republicans are using partisanship to try to fuel their political advantage next year.

"They (Republicans) are trying to essentially draw an extremely partisan plan to maximize their gains, which is difficult to do historically, when you have courts looking at these plans," Speed said.

Speed indicates that Democrats see hopes in Alabama, Arizona, California, and Colorado among others that will offset any Democratic losses in states where Republicans control the redistricting process. He also said Democrats would not write off Florida.

Democrats believe they will defend all of their Florida congressional seats, while making inroads with the growing Hispanic population.


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