Parties Recruit for Endangered Jobs

Posted October 22, 2007 at 6:37pm

Erie County Councilman Kyle Foust (D) is running to represent the district currently held by Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) — and many Democrats say he’s a good fit for the district. But will that seat even exist by 2012?

English’s seat is considered one of Democrats’ prime pickup opportunities for 2008, but the district also is in one of the states that is almost certain to lose a Member of Congress following the next round of reapportionment in 2011.

Foust said he’s not thinking about the possibility that the job he is now seeking may disappear in a few years.

“I’m not going to let the future affect what I’m doing now,” Foust said. “You’d end up banging your head against the wall if you did that.”

But even if he wins the four-way contested primary and a likely expensive general election, an eliminated seat in Pennsylvania could leave him or another current Member of the delegation vulnerable again in 2012. In states that will lose seats in 2011, an incumbent could possibly be pitted against another incumbent or could face a tough re-election battle in an unfavorable district.

“What are you going to do at that point, if that’s the way the cards have been dealt?” Foust said. “I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that, but if that’s the case I’ll obviously take my case to the voters as best as I can and see what happens.”

According to census estimates for 2010 tabulated by Polidata, a firm that provides analysis of political data, New York and Ohio are slated to lose two Congressional seats each, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa, Louisiana and Illinois are each poised to lose one.

Meanwhile, states that have voted Republican in the past few elections, such as Florida and Arizona, are slated to gain two seats each. Utah, Nevada, Georgia, Washington and Oregon are supposed to gain one seat each, while Texas is poised to gain four House seats.

National Democrats have successfully fielded top-tier candidates for many of the seats now held by Republicans in the Rust Belt, but will the spots still be there in two cycles? And is the prospect that Republican-leaning states are certain to gain seats in the near future hurting the Democrats’ push to expand their majority in the House?

The answers depend on many hard-to- determine factors — including how each state redraws its Congressional map in 2011 or 2012.

“It’s so difficult to project what might happen after 2010 before a census is even taken,” said Democratic redistricting attorney Jeffrey Wice. “Even after the census numbers are in, each state’s process is so different.”

For example, Democrats in New York control the governorship and the state Assembly, but Republicans run the state Senate. The 2010 elections could change that, although experts say the overwhelming majority in the Assembly and Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s (D) popularity will be difficult for state Republicans to overcome. And as in past rounds of redistricting, when sides don’t agree, the battle is usually fought out in court.

Ohio and Pennsylvania, however, have state legislatures that lean Republican. Both states also have Democratic governors who are either term-limited or up for re-election in 2010.

Ohio Democrats might control the redistricting process in 2011 if they can hold on to the majority of seats on the state’s reapportionment board, which includes a state lawmaker from each party, the governor, auditor and secretary of state. If Democrats can retain their hold on the governorship and secretary of state’s office in 2010, Ohio’s two lost seats for 2012 might be favorable to Democrats, according to Ohio Republican Party Executive Director Jason Mauk.

Mauk said even though 2012 is a few election cycles away, party officials are keeping their eyes on 2010 and 2012.

“Strategically we always look to the future when recruiting candidates,” Mauk said. “And I think we understand the dynamics will change in the next two to three election cycles.”

Mauk also said that even though the Ohio Republican delegation has seen three retirements so far this cycle, that might actually be helpful for redistricting in 2012.

“The 2008 election gives us an opportunity to elect some fresh faces to the delegation prior to either the complexities of redistricting that sometimes make candidate recruitment even more difficult in that environment,” he said. “In 2010, it’s going to be very difficult to get candidates to run for these Congressional seats because they know the districts may change dramatically before the next election.”

The looming redistricting process and the uncertainty that comes with it “makes it almost impossible” to recruit good candidates until 2012, he added.

“I know these guys are probably not going to stick around for four years,” Mauk said. “So now is as good a time as any to field candidates in those districts.”

Although Michigan has not seen the Republican retirement wave that Ohio has, Democrats are targeting two of the nine GOP-held House seats. As Democrats recruit what many observers call top-tier candidates to run against GOP Reps. Joe Knollenberg and Tim Walberg, the reality remains that one of the 15 seats in Michigan likely won’t be there in 2012.

Which seat remains will depend on who has control of the Legislature, the governorship and the elected state Supreme Court, according to Inside Michigan Politics newsletter editor/publisher Bill Ballenger.

“We’re going to lose a seat, and there’s no question about that,” he said. “The Republicans controlled the process in 2001, so they completely rewrote the Congressional map. They’ve lost the state House in the interim, barely held onto the state Senate.”

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is term-limited to 2010, leaving a small opening for Republicans to take over the process if they gain control of the state House and keep their hold in the Senate — both of which have elections before 2011.

Nonetheless, Ballenger said the final map usually has ended up being drawn by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court, an elected body that he said has exercised “huge influence on reapportionment in Michigan” and has “pretty much chosen” the Congressional boundaries.

So does what might happen in in five years discourage a candidate’s decision to run today? Ballenger said that’s usually not the case because political opportunities can come along “once in a lifetime.” The looming 2012 map didn’t stop former state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters (D) from running against Knollenberg.

“Peters can’t sit around thinking, ‘I’m going to wait until everything is absolutely perfect,’” Ballenger said. “Well I’ll tell you, absolute perfects in terms of district line and political opponents hardly ever happens. There’s always something that’s a question mark.”

And the redistricting threats haven’t stopped many candidates in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York from running.

“Our recruitment in those three states is as strong as it is in any other states in the union,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said.

Former Rep. Martin Frost (Texas), who led House Democrats’ war room on redistricting after the previous census but lost his own seat as a result of redistricting, said Democrats are in much better shape in the Rust Belt region than they were in 2001, when many of those states had Republican governors.

Frost also argued that many of the gains in the Sun Belt-area seats could be a “mixed bag” because of the burgeoning Hispanic population, which has a tendency to vote for Democrats.

Until then, Frost said 2012 is not on the candidates’ political radar.

“The object is to take as many seats as you can in the next election in 2008, then you let the redistricting sort itself out,” he said.