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Redistricting Battle Coming in Texas

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"The State is confident that the new legislative and Congressional maps comply with both the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution," a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in an email.

"The State is confident that the new legislative and Congressional maps comply with both the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution," Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean wrote in an email. "For the last ten days the Texas Attorney General's office has defended Texas' new redistricting maps, including the Congressional map, in trial in federal district court in San Antonio."

But Texas House Members are not optimistic, given the conclusion of the San Antonio trial, according to one well-placed party operative in the state. Like many others, the operative declined to speak on the record during ongoing litigation.

In the San Antonio trial last week, the state's expert witness testified that Republican Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco's new district does not pass muster as a Hispanic-performing district. That's one of three major legal problem areas Democrats frequently cite in the new Texas map. They also lament that there's only one minority district around Dallas, even though there are 1.5 million Hispanics in the area.

Finally, Democrats argue the map as a whole retrogresses the representation of majority-minority districts from 11 to 10 seats, despite the state picking up four seats.

"The state's expert witness turned a rock-solid legal argument into a question when there are already so many other questions," the GOP operative bemoaned. "Because of the way the [state] attorney general handled the case, there's no question that Republican Members are extremely nervous about the potential outcome and ruling on this case. Nervous is an understatement."

Members are worried about their seats, but the implications of the redistricting court battle go beyond the state's map.

Obama stands to gain if the Justice Department battles the Texas map, staging a symbolic fight with his surging rival, Perry. Polls show the president's standing with Hispanic voters continues to slip, and a strong effort in court will show that his administration is on their side.

"It sends Hispanic voters a message that this Justice Department is ready to fight to defend the Voting Rights Act — and not just Hispanic voters, but African-Americans voters," Angle said.

Perry signed the map into law, so he benefits if courts pre-clear it without much hassle. Many Republicans see Perry as the party's best shot to compete for Hispanic voters in 2012, and an easy trial reinforces that notion.

"He's one of the candidates that truly understands the Hispanic community given that almost 40 percent of the state is Hispanic," said Bettina Inclán, the former national executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "They have a huge part of the state that is Latino, and he also has one of the largest borders with Mexico."

Perry faced a tight time frame to sign the map in mid-July, just a few weeks before he announced his campaign for president. If he vetoed the bill, he would have been forced to call another special session for lawmakers to pass a new map — a move that would have pushed his campaign launch even further into the fall.

Texas is up against the clock to finish the map before candidates begin filing for next year's primaries on Nov. 12. The map must be done 30 days in advance of that date, leaving only a few weeks to resolve any legal issues.

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