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But the likelihood that Republicans will “only” be able to cement their strong position in the House rather than add to it is hardly grounds for celebrating by Democratic strategists. And that outcome certainly wouldn’t preclude the view that, ultimately, redistricting could be disastrous for Democrats.
After their legislative and gubernatorial victories over the past few cycles, Democratic strategists had every reason to think this time they would be able to redraw a number of large states or, at the very least, that they would be in a much stronger bargaining position than they were a decade ago.
After all, most of the current maps were drawn in 2001 and 2002, when Republican mapmakers in several key states — including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida — minimized Democratic opportunities (or, if you prefer, gerrymandered districts to benefit the GOP). Mid-decade redistricting by Republican state legislators in Texas and Georgia did the same thing.
But after the 2010 elections, many of those Democratic hopes of affecting redistricting are dashed.
Instead of winning gubernatorial races in Georgia, Florida and Texas, Democrats lost all three, as well as the top office in Ohio. Instead of retaining at least one legislative chamber in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, they lost both chambers in all three.
And instead of having total control in New York and North Carolina, as they expected, Democrats lost the New York state Senate and both chambers of the North Carolina Legislature (to say nothing of Wisconsin and Minnesota).
North Carolina was one of the Democrats’ successes in the last round of redistricting, so Republicans now have the opportunity to redraw the state dramatically to their advantage.
Of course, voters sometimes frustrate mapmakers in the first election after reapportionment, as happened in Georgia a decade ago. So we won’t know the winners and losers from redistricting until after the 2012 elections.
What is clear, however, is that Democrats hoped to be in a far stronger position in redistricting than they now find themselves, and it is Republicans who over the next 18 months will decide how far to push the envelope in state after state.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.