- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Ohio, a redistricting plan recently approved by state lawmakers is pitting longtime incumbents against each other, turning up the heat in the politically divided Buckeye State’s 2012 election cycle.

After two contentious referendums in November - Ohioans voted to restore collective bargaining for state employees while casting a symbolic vote against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act - state lawmakers turned to redrawing the congressional map to eliminate the two seats lost as a result of the 2010 census.

Some of the 16 districts they created will match well-known incumbents against each other, making for a game of congressional musical chairs and must-watch races in several districts next year.

Rep. Betty Sutton, a Democrat and former labor lawyer from Copley Township, for example, has been redrawn into the district of Rep. James B. Renacci, a Republican financial consultant from Wadsworth.

“The Sutton-Renacci race is going to be the war,” predicted David Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s redistricting specialist. “I think it’s the next big labor fight in Ohio, a former labor lawyer running against the multimillionaire Republican.”

In the new 9th District, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a 15-term congresswoman, is facing longtime liberal Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich. Mr. Kucinich may duck that challenge and make a run in the nearby 11th District, where he would face incumbent Rep. Marcia L. Fudge and Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner on March 6 in a Super Tuesday primary.

The new map does pit two Republicans, Rep. Michael R. Turner and Rep. Steve Austria, against each other in the 10th District.

“This is going to be the best race in Ohio,” political analyst Paul Leonard, a former Dayton mayor, told the Dayton Daily News.

Still, many political observers contend that the overall map favors the GOP.

“Ohio is a major disappointment for the Democrats,” Mr. Wasserman said. “They thought there would be a way by petition to block the map and force the issue to court. Instead, Democrats were unable to collect the required petition signatures and Republicans now have a map that they like. What has happened here fits a pattern consistent with many states in the country.”

In a state Mr. Obama carried in 2008, Republicans are poised to grab a 12-4 advantage in the U.S. House delegation next year.

Ohio Republicans called the map a bipartisan deal.

“We are just as unhappy with the map as the Democrats,” spokesman Chris Maloney said. “Ideally, we would not have two hardworking Republican members … Austria and Turner, being dropped into a primary together. But … that is the map that the legislature has come up with.”

Ohio Democrats have had mixed reactions.

Some have said it’s a better deal than the map first proposed by Republicans and defended it as a map that increases minority influence and makes state districts more competitive.

Others want an investigation.

“It goes without saying that Ohioans deserved a much fairer congressional map than this,” state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported that documents produced by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting found that representatives of House Majority Leader John A. Boehner and the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee were involved in the redistricting.