POLITICS:

Analysis -- New Census helps GOP to a degree

Numbers seldom lie: The Census Bureau's reapportionment of congressional seats, announced yesterday, helps Republicans and hurts Democrats.

That is not surprising. For several decades, states in the Sun Belt, which generally trend conservative, have picked up House seats while states in the more Democratic-friendly Rust Belt have lost them.

This decade is no exception -- although the GOP advantage probably is not as great as it was after the Census takings of 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000.

This year, Texas gained four seats, bringing its total to 36 for the 2012 election and beyond. Florida picked up two seats, upping its count to 27. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will each add a seat.

Utah came close to gaining a fourth seat after the 2000 Census, so the fact that it is being granted one now is bittersweet for state leaders.

"This is something that should have occurred 10 years ago," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

New York and Ohio were the biggest losers, shedding two seats apiece. New York, the most populous state in the country until the 1960s, will have 27 seats when Congress reconvenes in 2013. Ohio drops to 16 seats.

States losing one seat apiece: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Here is the first reason why these newly apportioned seats hurt Democrats: President Obama will have a tougher path to 270 electoral votes in 2012 than he did in 2008. He won a decisive 365 electoral votes last election to Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain's 173. But with the new electoral map, Obama's advantage would have fallen to 359-179.

Each state's electoral votes equals its number of House seats plus two. So in 2004 and 2008, for example, the Republican presidential nominee was awarded 34 electoral votes when he won Texas. In 2012, Texas will bring the winner 38 electoral votes -- and the GOP White House nominee, regardless of who it is, will be favored to win there.

At the same time, states Obama is favored to win, like Illinois and New York, will put fewer electoral votes in his column. Extrapolate that to the rest of the country and Obama has no Electoral College cushion whatsoever, as it will be harder for him to win traditionally Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina and swing states like Florida and Ohio than it was in 2008.

At the congressional level, with so many seats headed to the South and West, it will make it all the harder for Democrats to flip the 25 seats they will need in 2012 to retake control of the House. Republicans also control the redistricting process in many key states, which will also hinder the Democratic rehabilitation.

Taking back 25 seats, under the current boundaries and in an uncertain political environment, may seem doable for Democrats. But by the time the seats shift West and Republicans have their way with district lines, the hurdle is going to be a lot higher.

Democratic advantages

Still, all is not completely bleak for Democrats on the redistricting front. In some of the Sun Belt states that picked up seats, like Arizona and Nevada, those gains are largely attributable to the growth in Hispanic population and other constituencies that trend Democratic.

"Today's release of U.S. Census data pours cold water on Republicans' hype that redistricting is a disaster for Democrats," Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement yesterday.

What's more, when Republicans controlled redistricting in certain states a decade ago, they tended to overreach, drawing boundaries that could not sustain the big GOP advantages through the course of the decade.

Republicans lost a significant number of seats in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2008, and even though they gained many of them back in the wave election of 2010, they may not be able to craft impenetrable boundaries this time around. Because Ohio is losing two seats and because the GOP did so well there this past Election Day, it will be tough for the Republicans who control the redistricting process there to only eliminate Democratic seats.

In Texas, the mid-decade redistrict engineered in 2003 by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) produced huge Republican gains. But even though the GOP will control the redistricting process in the Lone Star State once again, population shifts and a growing Hispanic electorate will make it very difficult for the Republicans to once again pick up a significant number of seats there. The GOP already will have a 23-9 edge in the delegation beginning in January.

Democrats have at least one other advantage during the redistricting process: control of the Justice Department. Many of the states that are picking up or losing seats have congressional districts whose boundaries are governed to some degree by tenets of the Voting Rights Act. If map makers move to diminish minority representation, the Justice Department could swoop in, in an attempt to enforce the law. This is the first time Democrats have controlled Justice during a redistricting period since the Kennedy administration -- and that could be significant.

Legal battles over redistricting are inevitable. But redistricting cycles also produce lawmaker versus lawmaker contests, both in primaries and in general elections, particularly in states that are losing seats. These often produce some of the greatest spectacles -- especially for political insiders -- of the election cycle.

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