- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - While Republican lawmakers in some states may have benefited from congressional redistricting, the changes had little effect in Tennessee.

Republicans were able to give themselves a built-in advantage in House elections by doing well in the statewide elections in many states, then gerrymandering congressional districts in key states after the 2010 census. The strategy may prove to be advantageous going into the 2014 midterm elections and beyond, regardless of the political climate in November.

In Tennessee, for the most part, the redistricting solidified the Republican stronghold. The GOP occupies seven of the nine congressional seats.

“It essentially made the districts … which were already safe for one party or another to continue to be safe,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.

He noted one thing Tennessee Republicans didn’t do was divide Nashville among several congressional seats, which was a relief to some Democrats. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, one of two Democrats in Tennessee’s nine-member congressional delegation, was among those who spoke out against breaking up the 5th District.

Cooper represents most of Nashville and parts of Cheatham and Wilson counties. If the change had occurred, Cooper would have lost Wilson County, and gained heavily Republican areas in the southern part of Nashville, plus more of Cheatham County and all of Dickson County.

“Thank you for keeping Nashville together. The ‘Andrew Jackson District’ is intact!” Cooper said after the decision not to break up the district.

Two Republican state lawmakers, Sens. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, had said they would consider the seat held by embattled incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais depending on the new maps. Both live in the new 4th District.

This year Tracy will challenge DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who was re-elected in 2012 despite disclosures that he had affairs with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion.

Tracy recently told The Associated Press that regardless of the effects of congressional redistricting, he still has a lot of ground to cover and expects a challenge in the election later this year.

“It’s a challenge because it’s a large area and you’re trying to see as many people as you can,” said Tracy, whose district includes all or parts of 16 counties in the central part of the state. “When you’re running a grassroots campaign, you want to see people and let them … know who you are.”

The 4th District, which is 82 percent white, has the fifth highest poverty rate of all the Tennessee congressional districts at 12.7 percent.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s 9th District in the southwest portion of the state is 65 percent black and has the highest poverty rate at 21.7 percent and the most uninsured residents at 19 percent.

While in the mostly rural northeastern part of Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s 1st District - which is 2 percent black and 92 percent white - has a poverty rate of 14.9 percent and 15 percent uninsured.

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