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Reapportionment: Good News for GOP?

When Election Data Services late last month released projections of which states are poised to gain and lose Congressional seats based on the 2010 Census, Republicans cheered.

The numbers showed that GOP-leaning states in the Sun Belt continue to outpace the more Democratic Northeast and Midwest in population growth. But projecting whether the Republicans truly will gain ground after the post-2010 reapportionment requires a more micro-level look at the states in question.

According to the EDS, the states that are set to gain at least one seat after 2010 — if current demographic trends hold — are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Each voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004, and the GOP controls both the Legislature and the governorship in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Utah. The GOP also controls one chamber plus the governorship in Nevada.

Here is a rundown of what may be in store in the states that could gain seats after 2010:

Arizona. On Nov. 7, the Arizona delegation shifted from 6-2 Republican to a 4-4 tie. Both new Democratic House Members — Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell — likely will get serious GOP challenges in 2008, and given the state’s historical red tinge, Republicans will look to gain ground if new seats materialize after 2010. The problem for the GOP is that an independent redistricting commission, not the Republican-controlled Legislature, is charged with drawing the lines.

Currently, Republican and independent registration levels are healthy, said one GOP lobbyist in the state. But the growth of the Hispanic population — and the evolution of Latinos’ political leanings — remains a wild card.

Florida. There’s little question that the Florida GOP has worked hard to maximize Republican seats. But some demographic realities may make it harder for Republicans to do so in the future.

There are at least three factors that could play a role, said University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus. One is the growing number of independents, who account for almost one in four voters and whose voting patterns fluctuate tremendously, she said. Another factor — which already emerged in the 2006 midterms, she said — is population shifts from expensive areas of the state to more affordable jurisdictions.

And the third issue will have to do with how Florida Hispanics divide their vote. “Generational cracks are evident in the once solidly Republican Cuban population, and the non-Cuban population now outnumbers the state’s Cuban electorate,” MacManus said.

Georgia. While few states have been moving as steadily in the Republicans’ direction, partisanship may be less of a consideration during the next round of redistricting.

After an aggressive pro-Democratic map was enacted after the 2000 Census and a more pro-Republican map enacted by a newly installed GOP Legislature prior to the 2004 elections, Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) convened a task force to study how redistricting should be done in the future. Late last year the panel recommended the formation of an independent commission that would present maps to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote. It remains to be seen whether this idea will be enacted.

No matter what happens, Democratic Reps. John Barrow and Jim Marshall, who won very narrow victories in 2006, remain vulnerable for the foreseeable future.

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