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2012 Battleground Centers on Traditional Swing Seats

Illinois offers another Democratic opportunity, as one of the few states where Democrats will control redistricting.

While Republicans assumed control of 19 state legislative chambers — including both chambers in five states — Democrats maintained control of the Illinois governor’s office and the entire Legislature. They are also in strong positions in California, Nevada, New Mexico and New York, but few states offer more pickup opportunities than Illinois.

There will be nine Illinois Republicans serving in the next Congress from districts carried by Obama. That’s more than any other state, and it’s hard to imagine that an Obama-led ticket wouldn’t have a downballot benefit for Members.

Still, it’s worth noting that three Illinois Democratic incumbents lost on Nov. 2, and a fourth trails in a race that has not yet been called.

Obama voters “either stayed home or changed their mind in 2010,” Nevins said. “The question is whether they’ll come back. A lot of that has to do with the economy.”

And in the South and Southwest, Democrats could benefit from demographic shifts in 2010, which should improve voter turnout among minorities, according to GOP pollster Gene Ulm, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. A younger electorate could help Democrats across the country as well.

CNN exit polling found that Republicans benefited from an electorate that was older and less ethnically diverse than voters were in 2008. Black voters, for example, represented just 10 percent of the vote in the 2010 midterms, compared with 13 percent in 2008. And just 11 percent of the midterm electorate was between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 18 percent in 2008, according to the exit polling.

That could make a difference in Southern states such as Florida, where Republicans knocked off four Democratic incumbents. And an expected increase in Latino turnout would likely benefit Democrats in places such as Nevada, where Rep.-elect Joe Heck (R) knocked off Rep. Dina Titus (D).
The same could be said of eight districts in California that Obama carried in 2008 but will be occupied by Republicans in the next Congress.

Despite the Election Day drubbing, Democrats should be optimistic about 2012, according to Nevins.

“With any sort of wave elections like this, it opens up numerous opportunities for Democrats to take back seats that shouldn’t have been won by Republicans,” he said. “But so much can happen in two years. And redistricting is such a wild card that it’s impossible to predict what will happen.”

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