Swing States Prepare for 2012, Redistricting
With the 2010 elections still visible in the rearview mirror, state Republican and Democratic parties have already begun planning for the next two years, when reapportionment, redistricting and the presidential election will bring new challenges for each state.
State parties will be integral to raising money and building ground games for the national party committees in the next cycle, when President Barack Obama is up for re-election. With the upcoming release of new census numbers, Republicans and Democrats in each state have the added responsibility next year of redistricting, which can set the course of Congressional and state legislative elections for the next decade.
At the Congressional level, both parties have challenges ahead. After losing six Senate seats last month, Democrats are heading into another difficult election cycle as the party must now defend the seats it picked up in 2006. Many of the House seats Democrats picked up in 2006 and 2008 were lost to Republicans this year, which in turn adds a stable of vulnerable seats the GOP will need to work hard to defend in 2012.
Roll Call surveyed the state of state parties in every region of the country, paying particular attention to a handful that will play significant roles in the presidential election.
The Ohio Democratic Party may have been the best organized state party heading into the 2010 elections, but Republicans still went on to amass major gains at every level in the Buckeye State. Republicans took control of the governorship, the state House and five House seats from Democrats, and the GOP also retained control of the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Republican George Voinovich.
The results put in jeopardy a key electoral state for Obama heading into his re-election, even though he won Ohio by 5 points after President George W. Bush carried it in the previous two elections.
“We were as aware as the White House was of what it meant for national politics,” Republican Governors Association Executive Director Nick Ayers said last month, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Ayers said the group had spent $11 million helping John Kasich defeat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Along with the presidential race, first-term Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is up for re-election and is expected to be a top target for state and national Republicans.
The state could lose two Congressional districts through reapportionment next year. Because of the GOP’s House gains, it’s likely the party will lose a seat.
However, thanks to the party’s sweep of statewide offices, the five-member redistricting commission that draws state legislative districts will include four Republicans, and the GOP-dominated state Legislature will redraw the Congressional map.
The Ohio GOP’s bank account is healthy following the last cycle, but the Ohio Democrats had just $55,000 in the bank as of Nov. 22.
Obama won Nevada by 12 points in 2008, thanks in part to the state Democratic Party’s ability to increase its voter registration advantage by 100,000. Two years later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won re-election despite being among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country — the result of an impressive get-out-the-vote effort and a divisive GOP nominee.
Republican Sharron Angle’s candidacy split the state GOP — some concluded she was too out of the mainstream to support while conservatives felt she would represent their views in the Senate.
The state party had been moving to the right and shifted further by ousting moderate state Sen. Bill Raggio from his Minority Leader position just after the election. That was punishment for his outspoken criticism of Angle and new, more conservative Senators. Raggio had been the GOP Senate leader since 1983.
Despite Angle’s disappointing performance against Reid, Republicans were able to win back the 3rd district and remain confident they will hold Sen. John Ensign’s seat. Ensign is running despite the Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his actions surrounding an extramarital affair he had with a former staffer. Several Republicans are expected to challenge him in the primary if he stays in the race.
The state GOP began preparations on Nov. 3 for an early 2012 presidential caucus that will have binding results, a shift from 2008 when Mitt Romney won but delegates to the Republican National Convention were not forced to vote according to the caucus results. Now Republicans vying to take on Obama will be paying extra attention to Nevada, and the state party believes it will help close the voter registration gap.
The state is expected to gain a fourth House seat in reapportionment next year. The Democrat-controlled Legislature will draw the new districts, but Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval can veto plans he finds unsatisfactory. The new map could affect the safety of the 1st and 2nd districts and the competitiveness of the swingy 3rd district.
Both state parties have healthy bank accounts heading into the next cycle.
A lot is at stake in the Show Me State during the next election cycle. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon are up for re-election and are seen as vulnerable, and the state may lose a seat in its House delegation in redistricting.
Missouri Republicans had a good year in 2010: In addition to Rep. Roy Blunt winning the open Senate seat and former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler defeating longtime Rep. Ike Skelton (D), Republicans grew their majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature. Former state party Chairwoman Ann Wagner is making her bid for chairwoman of the Republican National Committee on the way the battleground state has shifted toward Republicans in the past decade.
Missouri Republicans had more than double the cash on hand that Missouri Democrats had in their federal account a couple weeks after the election. But Democrats will get the boost of the president’s re-election campaign and the resources and high-level visits that come along with being a battleground state. Obama narrowly lost Missouri’s 11 electoral votes in 2008, a break from the state’s near-century tradition of backing the White House winner.
Democrats hold four of the six statewide offices, in addition to McCaskill’s Senate seat, and Susan Montee, who lost her re-election campaign for state auditor in 2010, was chosen as the Democratic chairwoman over the weekend.
St. Louis is a top contender for the Democratic National Convention, which could give Missouri additional attention in 2012.
The state Democratic Party is at a crossroads. For the past eight years, the organization’s de facto leader has been Gov. Ed Rendell, a larger-than-life personality widely respected for his political acumen, charisma and ability to execute priorities.
The term-limited Rendell, who will cede his state’s top elected post to Republican Tom Corbett in the coming weeks, helped deliver the swing state to Obama in 2008, but he sometimes ignored the less glamorous, but equally important, party responsibilities such as candidate recruitment and grass-roots organizing.
His Democratic Party is reeling from devastating election losses at virtually every level. The GOP in November took control of the governor’s office, the Senate seat previously held by now-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter and the state House of Representatives. Republicans also maintained their state Senate majority, control of most of the statewide general officers and even control of the state Supreme Court.
Rendell also leaves behind a formal party structure led by former Millvale Borough Mayor Jim Burn that has in some ways been on cruise control for much of the past decade. And the GOP has a substantial cash advantage in its federal account.
There is good news for Democrats, however.
Despite the November drubbing, Democrats maintain a healthy 51 percent to
37 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans. That advantage is due, at least partially, to the Philadelphia market and key labor union strongholds.
In the redistricting battle, Pennsylvania is likely to lose one seat, but insiders believe Republicans who now control the legislative and executive branches of state government will be hesitant to push the envelope given their 2010 gains.
Democrats got “shellacked” nationwide, as Obama put it, but not in California, where Democrats swept the statewide offices and held on to each of their handful of vulnerable House seats. But Republicans did not just lose, they struggled to even be competitive.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is returning to serve as governor despite being outspent by Republican Meg Whitman by $135 million. Whitman received just under 42 percent of the vote, and things were not much different downballot, where just one Republican in the five other state office races garnered 40 percent.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) defeated Republican Carly Fiorina despite being one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. Fiorina won just 42 percent.
In 2012, things don’t look much better for Republicans in the state with 55 electoral votes. Obama won California in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will be 79 in two years, has hinted that she will run again. She won her last election by 24 points against an underfunded challenger, and so far it is unclear whether any top-tier GOP challenger will step forward in 2012.
With a depleted bank account and questionable bench of top GOP candidates, the California Republican Party has some rebuilding to do. Fiorina has been floated as a potential chairwoman of the state party given the current chairman is term-limited, but it’s not clear whether she’d have the support to lead the party.
The state GOP may have emerged stronger from the embarrassing arrest of former Chairman Jim Greer.
Greer stepped down in February and was charged with six counts of organized scheme to defraud, four counts of felony grand theft and one count of money laundering. It was a painful chapter for local Republicans but ultimately did not prevent the GOP from dominating the 2010 midterms. They credit the growth and autonomy of their state House and Senate committees in helping to generate major gains.
Sen.-elect Marco Rubio pounded Greer ally Gov. Charlie Crist (I) in the Sunshine State’s high-profile Senate contest. And Republicans now have veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate, in addition to controlling the governor’s office and virtually every other statewide office.
Such is the paradox of Florida, where even though Democrats hold a 5-point voter registration advantage, voters only narrowly supported Obama in 2008 and overwhelmingly voted for Republicans in the 2010 midterms.
Their 2010 performance gives the GOP sound control over the state’s redistricting process, expected to give Florida two new House seats. But two ballot measures passed in November limit the GOP’s ability to help incumbents and are expected to lead to a long and messy redistricting fight that will include several court challenges.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties are expected to select new chairmen in the coming year. And all eyes will be on Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, one of the only Democrats to hold a major elected office in Florida. And Florida will play host to the Republican National Convention.
The Granite State GOP has been consistently outspent and out-staffed by its Democratic counterpart. It has also been forced to confront the growing belief that the traditional swing state has turned blue.
GOP Chairman John Sununu has something to say about that, telling Roll Call on Monday just before announcing he would not run for a second term as the leader of the state party, “The legend that New Hampshire had gone Democratic permanently was obviously not true.”
Indeed, under Sununu’s leadership, Republicans dominated the midterm elections, flipping the tiny state’s two House seats and maintaining control of the Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Judd Gregg. They also won veto-proof control of the state Legislature, a shift that may render Democratic Gov. John Lynch largely ineffective over the coming two years.
While there is no doubt that Republicans improved their bench and have momentum, Sununu’s departure leaves a huge void for New Hampshire Republicans. He is a former governor and White House chief of staff, a sharp political mind who understands the big and little pictures in a state that will play a leading role in the 2012 presidential contest.
Sununu will be replaced Jan. 22. Local reports suggest that he’s privately supporting Cheshire County GOP Chairwoman Juliana Bergeron, who is on a short list of potential replacements and announced her bid Tuesday. The Republicans have paid off their debt, have engaged the local business community in their cause and have rejuvenated political action committees, Sununu said.
The state Democratic Party, however, enjoys a cash advantage going forward and has traditionally enjoyed a massive staffing advantage.
Sununu reports having 11 paid staffers through the midterms, while noting Democrats had closer to 50.
The wildcard in the future will be the effect of the 2012 presidential contest. Some Republican candidates already have staff on the ground in an effort to bolster grass-roots support in anticipation of the nation’s first presidential primary. Those staffing levels will only grow in the coming months, and it’s those resources that could help maintain the Republican momentum.
The happy recipient of national attention during presidential election cycles, the Hawkeye State is a place where state parties flourish. The Republican Party of Iowa, chaired by Republican National Committee member Matt Strawn, will be on the front lines as Obama’s potential 2012 opponents parade through the state.
Iowa Democrats came off a decent election in 2010, when they lost the gubernatorial and Senate races but held their majority of three seats to the GOP’s two seats in the House delegation, and they hope to coordinate with the Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America in 2012.
Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky will remain in place to lead the party. She’ll have her hands full since Iowa is expected to lose a seat in reapportionment. Obama will make a play to win Iowa’s seven electoral votes again, but Republicans who will get attention for attempting to win the critical party caucuses in January 2012 will have a shot given his tanking poll numbers there.
Tricia Miller contributed to this report.