- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

The slowly emerging outlines of the congressional redistricting map appears increasingly better for the Republicans in next year's elections.
No one wants to make any firm predictions based on the preliminary lines that are even now being drawn in key states, but the early evidence suggests that a House Democratic takeover is becoming increasingly remote.
Veteran elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg, whose Rothenberg Report closely tracks congressional races for the political community, stated earlier this month that the chances of the Democrats winning back the House "seems a formidable task."
Of course, about half the states have not even drawn or approved their new district boundary lines to readjust them to changed population counts. The process won't be completed until sometime next summer. Many of the proposed plans are being or will be challenged in court.
But an early reading of what is in the works thus far indicates that the Republicans stand to make significant gains from redistricting alone perhaps as many as 10 new seats. Winning some of the open seats or defeating incumbents would be icing on the cake for the GOP.
In Michigan, for example, GOP lawmakers merged two Democratic districts and have made the district of Democratic Rep. David Bonoir (he is leaving his seat to run for governor) more Republican. That plan, if it holds up, could result in a devastating three-seat loss for the Democrats there.
Pennsylvania is slated to lose two House seats. But Republicans, who control the legislative process there, hope to come out ahead by redrawing two to three Democratic majority districts to favor the GOP.
"The GOP's 11-10 congressional district advantage is likely to grow to 12-7 or even 13-6," Mr. Rothenberg says.
Perhaps the most furious political battle in the redistricting sweepstakes is going on in Texas, which stands to gain two seats under population reapportionment. But the GOP thinks it can do better than that possibly winning four to six more seats in the state's delegation, where the Democrats now have a 17-13 advantage.
A GOP plan approved earlier this month by a Democratic state judge would have decimated the Democrats' congressional ranks. But the judge, in a struggle filled with backroom intrigue and enormous political pressure, reversed himself and adopted a competing map that the Democrats favored. Then, last week, an all-Republican state Supreme Court rejected that plan in a 6-3 decision, ruling that the judge improperly switched plans at the last minute. Stay tuned.
Meantime, California has turned into a deep disappointment for the Democrats. The party had once hoped to gain more than five seats, but may gain one at best.
The Democrats control the state house and the legislature, and thus were in a solid position to redraw the state's district lines anyway they wanted. But traditional deal making between the parties to protect their incumbents in the 52-seat delegation has prevented that from happening.
With one proviso: Rep. Gary Condit is under intense pressure from top Democratic officials not to seek re-election after the mysterious disappearance of former intern Chandra Levy, with whom Mr. Condit had an intimate relationship. The GOP has a good shot at winning that seat.
Republicans are expected to pick up additional seats elsewhere, including Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
Democrats will partially offset some of these GOP gains by picking up at least two new seats in Georgia and, possibly, two other redrawn Republican districts that have opened them up to a potential Democratic takeover.
Another big factor working on behalf of the Republicans in this election cycle is the power of incumbency, which is going to be especially strong in an election season that is overshadowed by the war on terrorism. It will be very hard for challengers to be able to raise other issues against an incumbent, especially wedge issues, in a wartime environment when voters are far less likely to favor change.
In recent elections, there have been roughly 50 congressional races that were considered competitive, though this time it may be much less than that.
"Obviously, the fewer the number of competitive races nationally, the more difficult it will be for the Democrats to gain the six net seats that they will need to take over the House," Mr. Rothenberg says.
There are other wild cards in the coming months that could affect the outcome of the 2002 elections: whether the economy picks up or the recession lasts longer than anyone expects and unemployment continues to rise, or a major disaster in the war on terrorism that causes Mr. Bush to plunge in the polls.
But for now, political prospects do not look good for House Democrats. And the gains that the GOP will make in this year's redistricting battles are probably going to last for the rest of this decade, if not beyond.

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