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The Shape of Redistricting, Part I: Iowa, Louisiana, Arkansas

With redistricting completed in three states — Iowa, Louisiana and Arkansas — Democratic and Republican strategists are trying to look on the bright side. In fact, both sides have some reason for disappointment, but also for feeling relieved.

Louisiana lost one district, and Republicans were guaranteed the loss of a seat because all but one of the state’s districts now have sitting Republican Members and the state’s African-American population, centered in New Orleans, is guaranteed one seat.

The process in Louisiana was messier than it needed to be, as Republican legislators struggled to produce a map that would satisfy the Congressional delegation.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R) didn’t win himself popularity points by supporting a Democratic proposal that could have jeopardized a second Republican seat. In the end, though, the Member put at greatest jeopardy is Rep. Jeff Landry (R), whose district was cannibalized. He is expected to challenge Boustany.

Geographically, Boustany starts with the edge in a primary, but smart observers argue Landry is a better campaigner and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Republican incumbents in the Bayou State should be able to hold their districts in 2012, and Democrats probably will need another wave election (or a set of unusual circumstances) to win seats in the state.

Democrats hope to be able to compete in the new 4th district, which covers the northwest corner of the state. President Barack Obama drew just under 40 percent of the vote there, his second-best showing in the state.

The outcome in Iowa initially looks disappointing for Republicans, but by the time November 2012 rolls around, that may change.

Iowa lost a district, taking it from five to four, and the new map throws the only two Republicans together in the same northwest Iowa district.

Most of the staunchest Republican territory in the redrawn 4th district currently belongs to conservative firebrand Rep. Steve King (R), so the other Republican in the district, Rep. Tom Latham, will run against another incumbent, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D), in the redrawn 3rd district, which includes Polk County (Des Moines) and runs southwest to the Nebraska and Missouri borders.

At 77, Boswell is 15 years older than Latham. The eight-term Democrat has said he is running for re-election, and he has reassembled his team from past races. Of the 16 counties in the new 3rd, Boswell now represents just one, Polk, by far the most populous, while Latham represents three.

Democrats have a narrow registration advantage in the new district, but it went for President George W. Bush over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 5 points in 2004, and both Obama and Kerry ran a couple of points worse in the new 3rd district than they did statewide.

Just as important is that Latham is one of Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) closest friends in Congress, so Latham shouldn’t have fundraising problems in a run against Boswell. The Boswell-Latham contest starts as a tossup.

Not surprisingly, some have predicted that Boswell will retire rather than face off against Latham, leaving the Democratic nomination to Christie Vilsack, wife of the former governor and current secretary of Agriculture. But Vilsack has announced that she will challenge King in a large district that includes northwest and north-central Iowa.

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