- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

Republicans scored a redistricting victory yesterday when the Pennsylvania legislature approved a plan for congressional districts that could net Republicans two seats and cost Democrats four.

Because of population changes shown in the 2000 census, Pennsylvania will lose two U.S. House seats this year. Republicans, who control the governorship and both chambers of the state General Assembly, used the occasion of redrawing district lines to increase their advantage in the state's congressional delegation.

Republicans expect the new districts to change the balance in the state's delegation from 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to 13 Republicans and six Democrats.

But Democrats said by aiming to knock off so many Democratic incumbents, Republicans failed to shore up some of their own more vulnerable members.

The plan was approved by the state House and Senate yesterday, and a spokesman for Gov. Mark Schweiker said the governor will sign the bill. It pairs four Democrats in two districts, pits one Democrat against a Republican incumbent in a district that favors the Republican, and forces another Democratic incumbent to face a challenge from a highly touted Republican candidate.

With redistricting occurring nationwide, the Pennsylvania districts could offset expected Democratic gains in Georgia. In that state, Democrats drew the lines for its two new seats, which also improves their chances to win two other seats currently held by Republicans.

Right now, Republicans hold a 222-211 lead over Democrats in the U.S. House, with two independents also seated. Republicans are predicting a gain of eight to 10 seats from redistricting, while Democrats say the process will come out a wash.

Democrats saw Pennsylvania as Republicans' direct response to redistricting in places such as Georgia.

"Tom Davis and the Republicans are scrambling to save face," said one Democratic aide monitoring the redistricting process, referring to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who is playing a key role in the GOP's redistricting efforts. "They promised big redistricting gains, and after the first half of redistricting is completed, they're in a hole and scrambling to dig their way out. So they've looked to gerrymander in Pennsylvania as a way to dig their way out of the hole."

Democrat Al Gore carried Pennsylvania in the 2000 presidential contest over Republican George W. Bush 51 percent to 46 percent and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 5 percent, so Democrats said Republicans may have overreached with their plan. They said Republicans would have been better served by aiming at fewer Democratic incumbents and instead protecting Republican incumbents, such as freshman Rep. Melissa A. Hart.

But Republicans say Miss Hart, who won in 2000 with almost 60 percent of the vote, matches her conservative district well and they are confident of holding the seat.

"We're not at all worried about her; she is a very strong candidate, she's been an excellent congresswoman, and she is a very good fit for that district," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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