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2010 State Races Will Shape Redraw

Second in a two-part series: A look at Democrats' efforts to prepare for redistricting ran Monday.

When Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced last week that he is running for the Senate in 2010 instead of seeking re-election, the move was hailed as Senate Republicans’ biggest recruiting coup of the cycle.

But the news was hardly treated with applause from the Republican Governors Association or any Republican with an eye toward the upcoming post-2010 redistricting battle.

Crist’s departure creates an instantly competitive open-seat race — one of about a dozen next year that could have a serious effect on which party has more influence in the redrawing of House districts.

“Last time, the Republicans controlled more seats at the redistricting table than at any time since 1920,” former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said in a recent interview.

Fast-forward almost a decade and the picture heading into the next redraw looks very different for the GOP.

Both parties are aware of what’s at stake in the 2010 gubernatorial and state legislative races in terms of what the outcomes mean for the next redistricting fight, and both are ramping up their efforts accordingly. But Republicans appear to have the most to win or lose.

The party is down 40 seats in the House and out of power in the White House, and the sizable lead in the number of governorships that the GOP controlled after the 2000 elections has been whittled down to a 22-28 deficit.

On top of that, the upcoming redistricting will be the first since passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money and will severely limit Members’ involvement in the process.

Traditionally, the Republican National Committee has coordinated the GOP’s redistricting effort, relying heavily on soft money. In contrast, Democrats have relied on outside groups, such as labor unions for fundraising and coordination, making it easier for them to adapt to the new rules.

Davis was one of the key players in the last round of redistricting as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He recalled how important soft money was in the committee’s effort to influence state legislative races in 1999 and 2000, the election cycle before the new lines were drawn.

For instance, Davis said the NRCC poured an estimated $1 million into General Assembly races in Virginia in 1999, the year that the GOP wrested control of the House of Delegates and therefore total control of the redistricting process.

“In 2000, we were very, very focused on the legislative elections, in terms of the state Legislatures,” Davis said. “We were planning well ahead of the game on that.”

But at the moment, Republicans appear to be barely getting out of the conversation stage in terms of their redistricting game plan, in part because of the transition to power of RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

The RNC is moving to take the lead once again, and on Friday, it announced Tennessee National Committeeman John Ryder will serve as chairman of the redistricting committee. The RNC also signed on Tom Hofeller, who is considered to be the party’s authority on redistricting when it comes to data and analysis.

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