Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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

King’s new district is more competitive than his old one, but it still leans Republican. As Sioux City political writer Bret Hayworth observed recently, Republicans have a 40,000-registered-voter advantage in the district, and it “has voted demonstratively Republican in ‘good’ GOP national years ... and narrowly for Republicans in years when Democrats had momentum nationally.”

Hayworth notes that Democrat Tom Vilsack’s gubernatorial win in 2002 was “the outlier,” and Christie Vilsack will need to win support from moderate Republicans who find King too conservative if she has a chance to pull off the upset.

Republicans are disappointed in the Iowa map, which they hoped would force two Democrats, Rep. Bruce Braley and Rep. Dave Loebsack, to run against each other. That didn’t happen, and Democrats seem to like the new Iowa map, believing that at least one Republican seat will be lost next year.

The third early state to complete redistricting, Arkansas, is controlled completely by Democrats, and while the new lines seem to give Democrats chances to regain two of the Congressional districts they just lost, observers on both sides of the aisle agree that Democratic state legislators didn’t produce a map that improves Democratic opportunities noticeably.

GOP strategists have been worried that Arkansas legislators would craft two solidly Republican districts and two Democratic-leaning districts — one in the southern part of the state and one either around Little Rock or in the northeastern part of the state. Instead, Democratic legislators drew a Republican district in the northwest corner and three generally competitive districts in the rest of the state.

One of the reasons for the new lines was Democratic Rep. Mike Ross’ desire to have his southern Arkansas district reach up to the northwest to give him a presence — and an opportunity to introduce himself to and ingratiate himself with voters — in that part of the state before his expected 2014 gubernatorial bid.

But by stretching Ross’ district into reliably Republican territory in northwest Arkansas, Democratic legislators made Ross’ 4th district more difficult for his party to hold if and when he runs statewide.

With Democrats in complete control of only a handful of states where they could improve their standing through redistricting, Arkansas was a place where national Democratic partisans hoped to beef up the party’s prospects and cost Republicans at least one seat. That does not appear to have happened, which is why Republican operatives are smiling about the state’s new map.

Overall, party insiders on both sides of the aisle feel that the early trio of maps could have been better, but they believe they can at least hold their own with the new lines.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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