The Trifecta States

By Jim Ellis

In the trifecta of political parties controlling the House, Senate and Executive branches in a state, how many will actually benefit from that power in the redistricting process?

Oct. 11, 2021 — As the redistricting cycle moves forward, predictions are being made as to which party will benefit most through the decennial district boundary drawing process. Most analyses favor the Republicans as the party best positioned to gain under 2021 redistricting largely because of the number of states they control outright, but this could be an over-statement.

When a state features one party in control of the governor’s mansion, state House, and state Senate, the horse racing term of “trifecta” is used to describe such a political situation. Since Republicans hold 23 trifectas and Democrats just 15, it appears on the surface that the GOP will be the big gainer in redistricting.

Let’s look a bit closer because the aggregate trifecta number doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the Republican side, though they control 23 states, their redistricting position is lessened when examining their ability to extract a net gain of congressional seats.

Of their 23, in one, West Virginia, they are a sure bet to lose a seat. In this case, Republicans hold all three of the state’s CDs, but reapportionment reduces the Mountain State to two districts. Therefore, Republicans will unavoidably absorb the loss.

In two of their states, Arizona and Montana, a non-politician commission will draw the maps. In another dozen (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming) the GOP is already at the max level of partisan members and can’t stretch the new plan further.

In Iowa and Texas, though Republicans have trifecta control, legislative rules lessen their complete power; hence, the redistricting outcome is affected.

Finally, the GOP only has effective redistricting control in six states, and in two of those, Oklahoma and Tennessee, it could arguably backfire if the party tries to expand their ratio further. Therefore, it is in really just four states, Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Ohio where we could see Republican redistricting gains.

The Democrats find themselves in similar position. From their 15 trifectas, they only have redistricting control in five, possibly, and realistically, three states. In five of their 15 (California, Colorado, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington) redistricting goes to a citizens’ commission.

In another five (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, and Rhode Island) they already control all of seats in each particular state. Hawaii also redistricts by commission, but the state’s two congressional districts are securely in Democratic hands, so the re-map process here is largely inconsequential.

And, in two of the five where they do have redistricting control, it is likely they are maxed there, too. In Nevada, Democrats hold three of the state’s four congressional seats, but one of the three re-elected its Democratic incumbent with less than 51 percent of the vote, and another with 49 percent. Therefore, these two seats will require more Democrats coming from the Clark County area just to make them safe. Stretching the map to draw a fourth Democratic seat in the north would be a bridge too far.

The Oregon map is complete, and while they have a chance to gain the state’s new 6th District, even though the seat appears politically marginal, the new map clearly endangers Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby/Salem). While his new 5th District might favor him slightly, an eventual Republican nominee does have a strong chance of winning the general election.

This leaves three states, Illinois, New Mexico, and New York, where the Democratic map drawers are going to attempt to maximize their partisan advantage.

Some suggest the Dems may try to stretch the NY map to take five of the eight Republican seats. Such a plan may backfire, as some of the seats intended for a Democrat, similar to the situation in Oregon, could be competitive enough to elect a Republican, and particularly so in a good GOP election year.

The same scenario could occur in Illinois and New Mexico, where the Democrats are plotting to draw maps that will net them gains of two and one seat, respectively. Both of those plans could also yield marginal districts that might not vote as designed.

Therefore, at the end of what will be a long and controversial map drawing process, we could only see a swing directly related to redistricting of plus or minus three seats or less for either side. Thus, it appears that it will be the district electorates and not the new boundary maps that determine which party will command the majority in the next Congress.

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