Major redistricting action occurred in only two states during the past week, New York and South Carolina.
NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – The three-judge panel that has assumed redistricting responsibility released the congressional map this past week, and unless the legislature takes quick action, the court plan could shortly be instituted. Candidate filing is scheduled for March 24, so every day that passes without a new legislative proposal, the more likely it becomes that the court map will stand.
The legislature, of course, is more concerned with its own plans, particularly that of the state Senate. The congressional map takes a back seat to the Senate and Assembly unless it becomes a bargaining chip in negotiations between the Democratic state Assembly and the Republican Senate.
The court plan makes sizable changes to the New York congressional map, not surprisingly since the state loses two seats in reapportionment. The casualties are, first, freshman Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY-9) whose district is split into seven parts. He will now face Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY-5) in the new 6th District, a seat where President Obama captured 63 percent of the vote. Turner represents 46.0 percent of the new CD and Ackerman only 37.7 percent, but the district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that Turner is certain to fall.
The collapsed upstate Democratic seat is that of retiring Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22). This territory is spread among four new districts, with the largest share going to Republican Rep. Chris Gibson’s new 19th District. Equal parcels (about 23 percent apiece from the old 22nd) go to Reps. Nan Hayworth’s (R-NY-19) new 18th CD and Richard Hanna’s (R-NY-24) new 23rd District. The dispersing of the heavily Democratic territory to Republican districts clearly weakens each of those GOP districts.
The Long Island districts will see major change. Though the 1st District of Rep. Tim Bishop (D) remains virtually intact, 96.8 percent of the territory remains because he is surrounded by water on three sides, the political number actually gets one point more Republican. Remembering that Mr. Bishop survived in the nation’s closest race last election (593 votes against businessman Randy Altschuler who is running again in 2012), this one point adjustment could become significant.
But it’s the districts of Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY-2) and Peter King (D-NY-3) that are truly torn apart. First of all, the two will swap district numbers for the next decade, and King inherits 52.7 percent of Israel’s district. He keeps 47.3 percent of his own territory. The swap increases the Obama percentage by four points, and commensurately takes the McCain number down four. This will undoubtedly cause political problems for Mr. King. Though Mr. Israel only keeps 38.8 percent of his current territory, the new 3rd CD is highly Democratic, so the unfamiliar territory should not cause him much trouble.
Carolyn McCarthy’s 4th District sees a swing of six points toward the Republican side of the ledger, but she will still be in strong political position. Mr. Ackerman’s 5th District is split into five pieces, but he becomes the beneficiary of the pairing with Mr. Turner, as described above.
In the city, all incumbents should fare well. Upstate is a different story, though. Rep. Chris Gibson’s 20th District is changed greatly. He retains only 44.1% of his current district in new CD 19 and gains more than one-third of Hinchey’s Democratic seat. Gibson’s political number swings five points more Democratic, yielding to a 53 Obama percentage. Conversely, while Rep. Bill Owens’ (D-NY-23) new 21st District remains constant in terms of voting history, he adds 32.6 percent from Gibson’s current district in the Finger Lakes region. This addition will likely spell bad news for Owens and makes him highly vulnerable if the Republicans can ever coalesce around one candidate. A split vote between Republicans and Conservatives has led to Owens winning two terms.
The Buffalo area had to change greatly. It is this section of the state that experienced the greatest overall population loss. The big winner under this new draw is Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-27), whose new 26th District is a center city Buffalo seat. Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul, on the other hand, is in deep trouble. Her already heavily Republican district becomes even more so under this plan, as the new 27th CD actually becomes the best John McCain district in the state (54-44 percent over President Obama).
Other freshman Republicans Tom Reed and Ann Marie Buerkle get altered territory as well. Reed only keeps 54 percent of his current district, and it becomes more Democratic (about five points more so), but he should hold the district. Buerkle keeps 79.6 percent of her Syracuse-anchored CD, but she will be highly vulnerable as former Rep. Dan Maffei (D) is gearing up another run against her. The new 24th holds its Obama rating of 56 percent.
All totaled, 19 current incumbents retain a majority of their current territory and 10 do not. Expect some highly competitive 2012 congressional campaigns. In a delegation split 21D-8R, it is clear the Democrats will retain a huge edge in the next New York congressional contingent, but the Republicans do have a fighting chance to hold eight seats of the new 27.
It remains to be seen if the map described above actually becomes the electoral footprint for this election and those to follow.
SOUTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 5R-1D; gains one seat) – The three-judge federal panel hearing what many believe is a frivolous lawsuit brought against the new seven-district plan ruled against the plaintiffs and for the state. The Democratic plaintiffs will now have to decide whether to appeal to the US Supreme Court. This ruling virtually clinches that the legally adopted map will be used for the upcoming election and almost assuredly stand for the entire decade. Expect the GOP to capture the new Myrtle Beach district and expand the delegation to 6R-1D.