- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2011

The new battle lines literally haven’t even been drawn on the map yet, but the political jostling is well under way in states that will gain and lose U.S. House seats in 2012 because of congressional redistricting.

For incumbents in states that stand to lose a precious House seat, the elbows are already out.

All five members of Iowa’s congressional delegation say they will run again — even though only four seats will be up for grabs. In Massachusetts, one of the state’s 10-member delegation — all Democrats — is going to be the odd man out. Already party leaders are talking about drafting one of the 10, perhaps even Rep. Barney Frank, the state’s best-known House member, to take on first-term Republican Sen. Scott Brown instead.

Another high-profile congressman feeling the heat from redistricting: Ohio’s Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, who wasted no time in e-mailing supporters recently to weigh in on his behalf with state lawmakers redrawing the map. Ohio and New York were the only states to lose two House seats in the redistricting shuffle.

“In light of the strong chance that my district may be eliminated, my continued presence in Congress … will obviously call for a much different strategy,” he wrote. “I will not wait until a new Ohio map is produced to begin this crucial discussion of the consequences of congressional redistricting.”

With Southern and Southwestern states such as Florida and Texas posting the biggest population gains in the 2010 census, Republicans plan to use this redistricting cycle to consolidate and expand their 242-193 seat edge in the House of Representatives.

The big winner from the 2010 census — Texas — is also sparking one of the most closely watched redistricting endgames. With four new seats up for grabs, Republicans are in the driver’s seat in Austin in carving out the new districts, but Democrats are already warning the GOP not to get too greedy.

“All of the population growth in Texas is due to Hispanics and African-Americans,” said Matt Angle, who heads up the Lone Star Project, a political action committee pushing for more minority representation in the state.

“The only way that Republicans can have a net increase is if they unfairly suppress minority voters,” said Mr. Angle.

Still, he predicted the GOP, which controls the Texas legislature and every statewide office, would try to “run the table” and pick up all four seats.

Actually, a lot of Texas Republicans are upfront about their plans.

“We’re a Republican state,” Republican Rep. Pete Olson, who represents the Houston district once represented by former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, told the Hill newspaper. “And we think most of those seats should be red seats.”

Mr. Olson, who has worked with state lawmakers on redistricting, said last month that the GOP was committed to a fair map, but he said Republicans will do what it takes to add to their advantage.

Texas A&M political science professor Harvey Tucker said the GOP would be as aggressive this cycle as they were 10 years ago, though there are still limits to their ambition.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., has a seat at the table because it is charged with protecting minority voting rights under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This cycle will mark the first time since the law was signed that redistricting will occur with a Democrat in the White House.

Mr. Angle, who served as the chief of staff for former Texas congressman Martin Frost, said that could make a big difference.

“We don’t need the Obama administration to be particularly aggressive at all. We just need the Justice Department to make sure the new districts are fair,” he said. “If they just play it down the middle, Democrats in Texas will have a shot at winning all four seats.”

Other analysts don’t see that happening — even if the Justice Department gets involved.

Columbia University professor Rodolfo de la Garza, author of “The Future of the Voting Rights Act,” said the Obama administration will have to mount a vigorous effort to defend minority voting rights because “without them, Democrats are dead.”

But he predicted that the Republicans in Texas, backed by sophisticated new digital demographic computer models, will do just enough to avoid running afoul of the federal government.

The only other state picking up more than one House seat is Florida, which will add two new districts. As in Texas, Republicans control the legislature and the governorship.

But most analysts say Republicans will have a much tougher time dominating in Florida.

In a state where registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans, Democrats hold only six of the state’s 25 congressional seats. That disconnect may be unsustainable over the long haul and could limit the GOP’s short-term hopes of padding its advantage.

“If you just look at things like voter registration, you have to wonder if this isn’t the high-water mark for Republicans,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “In a state that has more Democrats than Republicans, how many more districts can you carve out?”

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