When the Indiana legislature was drawing a new congressional map 10 years ago, Democrat Joe Donnelly imagined about eight potential configurations of his new House district.
“I wanted to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” he recalled in a recent phone interview. “Preparing for the worst was the right thing to do.”
Under the new Indiana lines, released in April 2011, Donnelly’s already competitive district would become significantly more Republican. He launched what would become a successful campaign for Senate the following month, a few days after the state legislature enacted the new congressional map.
Unlike Donnelly, House members weighing runs for higher office in 2022 may be forced to launch their campaigns before they know what their new seats will look like. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, census data that states need to redraw districts is not expected until the end of September, at least six months later than it was delivered in 2011.
A handful of House members are considering running for Senate or governor in states that are either losing or gaining a House seat, where the congressional maps will change drastically. But waiting to launch a campaign for higher office until new maps are revealed could mean losing critical months of fundraising and organizing.
The census data delay could affect candidates in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio, which are all due to lose a House seat, and in Florida and North Carolina, which are gaining a seat each.
Florida Democrat Val B. Demings, who is weighing a run for Senate or governor, said off the House floor Tuesday that she will not wait for the new map.
“I’m going to be working, whether I stay in the House or run for statewide office, to make Florida a fairer state to live,” Demings said. “So I will not be waiting to see. And if they redraw my district, I’m going to do what I’ve always done and … maybe do a little bit harder work to get things done and to win.”
Delays in map drawing
If states in this redistricting cycle follow timelines similar to those in the last one, in 2011 and 2012, the new maps may not become available until shortly before many candidate filing deadlines, said Sandra Chen, a researcher at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
“These delays are definitely unprecedented,” she said. “A lot of states have been scrambling to figure out what they're going to do.”
In Pennsylvania, Democrats Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan are seriously considering running for Senate, while Republican Dan Meuser is reportedly considering running for governor. Lamb said Wednesday that redistricting is “not impacting my decision at all” and that he would not be waiting for the new map to decide.
Ten years ago, Pennsylvania state legislators released a draft map nine months after receiving the census data. Should the data this cycle not be released until Sept. 30, lawmakers would have less than six months to come up with a map before the candidate filing deadline of March 9, 2022.
Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger has said he could run for Senate or governor if he loses his House seat in redistricting. Another Illinois Republican, Rodney Davis, has also been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.
In the last redistricting cycle, the Illinois legislature released a draft map three months after receiving the census data. The state has an early primary in March, with a Nov. 29 filing deadline, which is just two months after the potential Sept. 30 release for census data this year.
Asked off the House floor Wednesday if it was feasible to wait for the new map to make a decision about a statewide run, Kinzinger said, “It’ll depend when it comes. Rumor is they’ll have it out soon. So we don’t know.”
Two House members, Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican Ted Budd, have already launched runs for open Senate seats in Ohio and North Carolina, respectively. Ohio Republican Michael R. Turner is also considering a Senate bid, although the state does have multiple deadlines for redistricting, which could clash with the delayed release of census data. The candidate filing deadline in Ohio is set for Feb. 2.
Along with Demings, Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy is also considering a run for Senate. A source familiar with the Democrat’s campaign said redistricting will not factor into her decision because the map is expected to be released next year.
“You can’t wait until then to run for the Senate and raise the kind of money you need to raise,” the source said, noting that Murphy has not yet made a decision.
Chen noted that Florida has historically passed maps late in the redistricting cycle, and the state also has a late filing deadline of June 17, 2022. Chen said it is possible the state Legislature could release a draft map by the end of its session in March, which would give candidates a few months before the filing deadline to weigh their decisions.
Redistricting is just one of many factors House members consider as they weigh runs for statewide office. Others include personal ambition, the pros and cons of each chamber, fundraising ability and the likelihood that a candidate can win statewide.
One source close to a House member considering a statewide run said not knowing the new congressional lines was “freeing” in a way.
“If you decide you’re going to run for something like [the] Senate, you’re going to have a justification for it rather than, ‘Well, I might not have any other option,’” the source said.
Other strategists disagreed, noting that redistricting delays mean candidates have to make a decision about their political futures without having all the necessary information.
Donnelly, who lost his Senate reelection bid in 2018, advised House members thinking of running for Senate this cycle to prepare for multiple outcomes and gather as much information as possible. But, he noted, waiting to launch a statewide run can cost critical fundraising and organizing time.
“It’s hard to be organizing a statewide campaign when you can’t tell anybody you’re actually going to, for certain, do it,” Donnelly said.
Funds can be easily transferred from House campaign accounts to Senate campaigns, but waiting to launch a bid could allow other primary candidates to lock in donors and endorsements.
Multiple candidates have already launched Senate runs in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina. And in Florida, former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson said in an interview that he is leaning toward running for Senate and is expected to announce his decision in a few weeks.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey did not seem concerned about the primary field in his home state of Pennsylvania remaining in flux . The open race for the state’s other Senate seat is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats.
"We’ll see,” Casey said Tuesday, later adding, “It’s still pretty early.”
Caroline Simon, Lindsey McPherson and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.