Republicans Win a Big Redistricting Edge

The fun for Republicans does not end with their Election Day blowout. Beyond impressive gains in Washington, historic victories at the state level—in legislative and governors' races—ensure that the party will dominate the redrawing of congressional districts that begins next year.

After each census, politicians in most states engage in a baldly partisan ritual of adjusting district lines in hopes of sending more of their allies to Washington for elections to come. And as bad a time as they had at the national level, the Democrats suffered equal, if not more devastating, setbacks in state races.

Republicans will have unilateral control of about 190 U.S. House districts as a result of the Nov. 2 election, according to Tim Storey, an analyst with the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. "Republicans won a commanding advantage in the redistricting process," he says.

Over the next several years, 15 to 25 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are more likely to remain Republican or switch from Democratic after redistricting as a result of the party's victories in the states, says Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee. "We're going to end up protecting a lot as opposed to carving new ones," he predicted in a conference call with reporters.

The GOP will control 25 legislatures, including Ohio, North Carolina, and Minnesota, boosting its power in statehouses by the most since 1928, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. The Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Alexandria, Va., calculates that its side enjoyed a net gain of 19 state legislative bodies in the course of taking away more than 500 state legislative seats from Democrats nationwide. The results "exceeded our expectations," says Gillespie, one of his party's most prominent strategists.

Enduring Advantage

Republicans plan to press their advantage. "By controlling a majority or more of reapportionment states, we can make sure that the Democrats don't take from us tomorrow what we fought so hard for today," Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who chairs the Republican Governors Assn., said in a news release.

Congressional seats will be reapportioned as a result of the recently completed census. States with shrinking populations will lose seats, and those with growing ones will gain. Eighteen states are projected to be affected, according to Election Data Services, a consulting firm.

In most states, governors play an important role in redistricting, and Republicans had success in these races as well. Democrats lost governors' seats to Republicans in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and at least eight other states. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, Republicans took from Democrats the lower house of the legislature as well as the governorship. In Wisconsin, Republicans swept both houses and the governor's chair. Republicans won both houses of the state legislature in Alabama for the first time since the end of the Civil War.

With these Election Day gains also comes more responsibility for dealing with widespread fiscal problems. Deficits are forcing many states to raise taxes, fire public employees, and cut spending on schools. Thirty-nine states project a collective $112 billion of deficits for the 2012 fiscal year, a figure that is likely to swell as the federal stimulus package expires, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group.

The bottom line: Big Republican gains in state-level races give the GOP a huge advantage over Democrats in redrawing congressional districts.

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