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Who Will Be Odd Man Out in New Jersey Redraw?

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New Jersey Republicans will likely want to strengthen Rep. Jon Runyan’s district, but other districts held by the GOP face the ax.

They see the potential for consolidating districts in northwestern New Jersey, where there are three Republican districts that need to gain substantial population. Those are represented by Reps. Scott Garrett, Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen. That could leave all seven Democratic Members relatively safe while knocking the number of GOP Members in the delegation from six to five.

“You can make an argument that, based on past performance, New Jersey should have a seven-five Congressional delegation,” New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Wisniewski said, referring to a map with seven safe Democratic Members and five Republicans. He added that an even map, with six GOP seats and six Democratic seats, would not represent the will of the voters based on how they have historically voted.

One likely GOP goal for the redistricting process is to strengthen the 3rd district of freshman Rep. Jon Runyan (R), who won last year with only 50 percent of the vote. The district swung for Barack Obama by 5 points in the 2008 presidential election.

To gain Farmer’s vote, each side may put forth a map that draws a Democrat and a Republican together. One potential matchup floated by sources familiar with the redistricting process was the pairing of Rep. Rush Holt (D) and Lance, whose districts border each other.

Farmer, a self-described “eternal optimist,” said he hoped to help bring both sides to a consensus map despite the “very partisan environment.” But if that proves too steep a hill to climb, he said, “my goal is to get the parties as close to that kind of convergence as possible so that my choice becomes one between two very good and very fair maps that will withstand legal challenge.”

He said his first task in the process is to dive deep into the state’s census data, including examining how the population has changed.

“Once we have a really good picture of what the state looks like demographically and why it is we’re losing a seat, that will then drive the discussion,” Farmer said.

The commission is not constitutionally obligated to vote on a final map until January 2012. If the panel can’t come up with seven votes for a final map, the top two maps are sent to the state Supreme Court, which decides which one becomes law.

“What’s clear is we are going to go from 13 Members to a 12-Member delegation,” Wisniewski said. “There’s certainly no preordained outcome at this point.”

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