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Redistricting Helped Limit GOP’s House Losses

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Redistricting helped National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions work the House map in his favor.

House Republicans and Democrats  both found reasons to celebrate Tuesday night, knowing this much about the 2012 elections: It could have been worse.

House Republicans, who executed a smart and carefully crafted strategy to hold the chamber by shoring up incumbents in redistricting and making strong plays against Democratic Members, kept control of the House by a wide margin. They looked poised to lose about seven seats in net by the end of Wednesday. But given President Barack Obama’s re-election, the comfortable Democratic victories in the Senate and Republican losses, House Republicans were victorious in avoiding what could have been a much more painful fate.

And although Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) often said during the cycle that the race for chamber control was “razor close,” House Democrats can revel in the fact that their overall ranks weren’t cut. Despite Israel’s bullish rhetoric, the road to the majority was always a steep climb.

“The reality is: getting to a majority was always a stretch,” said influential Democratic pollster Jef Pollock, noting that there had been a path, but it was a narrow one. And, he said, one of the big takeaways from Tuesday was intuitive: the decennial redraw of lines played a big role.

“We benefited from places where redistricting benefited us and we got hurt by places where redistricting hurt us,” he said. “In many ways, it was that simple.”

For example, Democrats picked up four seats in Illinois, a state where there was a partisan gerrymander in their favor. Republicans picked up at least three seats in North Carolina, a state where the GOP had the power of the pen.

But because Republicans controlled more levers of power in more states and, thus, the redraw of more districts, they had a considerable edge going into 2012 — and will have an edge in future cycles.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said in a memo that GOP strength in redistricting had made 17 “endangered” Republican-held seats safer. Democrats dispute that, and the long-term number is probably less, but state redraws were undoubtably a boon to the GOP this cycle.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.), the NRCC’s vice chairman for redistricting, surveyed the landscape in a short interview with Roll Call.

He noted that almost all of the Republican Members helped by redistricting survived. And Westmoreland, known as crafty strategist, said he liked what he saw for Republicans over the next four cycles, having counseled state legislators to draw maps with an eye toward changing demographics over the decade.

“I say we have a bright future for the House,” he said.

With redistricting baked in and no partisan wave, it made sense that Tuesday’s House results skewed toward the natural partisan lean of many districts.

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