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Hotline's Latest Edition / AGAINST THE GRAIN

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

After surviving some very tight elections in 2010, a number of House lawmakers now face an even tougher challenge in 2012--redistricting.

photo of Josh Kraushaar
November 17, 2010

Updated at 9:36 a.m. on November 17.

There's no bigger development in 2011 that will affect the political landscape than the decennial process of redrawing the district boundaries for members of the House. In 22 states, it’s a process steeped in partisanship -- with one party holding unilateral control of the process, thanks to majorities in the state legislature.

For lawmakers in tenuous districts, 2010 will mark a year where they will be as concerned about the machinations in state capitals ans much as votes on Capitol Hill.


Here is a list of the 10 lawmakers who will have to worry most about their own political survival in 2012 thanks to redistricting.

1. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.

Barrow is no stranger to redistricting: In 2005, he chose to run in a more Democratic district that didn’t include his home base of Clarke County -- after a court ruled the original Democratic-drawn lines were unconstitutional.

With the GOP in control of the process this time around and the state expected to gain a seat in reapportionment, Republicans have an opportunity to squeeze the Democratic strongholds around Augusta and Savannah into more Republican districts, which could leave Barrow without both a home and a political base.

2.  Rep.-elect Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.

Schilling's district was designed to protect Democrats – at least, before this month’s Republican tidal wave.  Schilling is proof positive that even the most contorted line-drawing can’t guarantee perennial partisan control, but he now is at the mercy of Democratic map-drawers, who control the process in Illinois.

Democrats may think his election is a fluke and, if so, could keep his district intact in hopes of beating him outright. But with Illinois losing a House seat, it won’t take much effort to give Schilling trouble. Consider his seat prime territory to get eliminated.

3. Rep.-elect Joe Walsh, R-Ill.

Walsh, who just won a squeaker over Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean, is one of the unlikeliest incoming members of Congress, ignored by both his opponent and own party leadership during the campaign, only to score one of the most unexpected victories of the night. 

The congressman-elect, plagued by scandal during the campaign, shouldn’t celebrate for long: With Democrats drawing the lines, he’ll be one of their first targets, and won’t be getting much help from Republicans to protect him.  It won’t take much: Merely tweaking the lines to add more Cook County precincts to the seat would make Walsh’s reelection a major headache.

4. Rep.-elect Jeff Landry, R-La.

One disadvantage of being distant from the establishment is that you can’t rely on political connections for protection.  And Landry, the tea party favorite who ousted the state House Speaker in the primary, is the most likely casualty when the state loses a seat.

With only one Democrat in the state’s seven-seat delegation, the odd man out is all but guaranteed to be a Republican. And with Landry holding the short straw on seniority -- along with his outsider status -- he’s on the endangered list before he’s even sworn into office.

5. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich.

Peters survived a tough reelection only to find he’s the most likely target of Republican redistricting. The Michigan governorship and state House flipped to Republican control, giving the GOP the ability to single-handedly eliminate a district, with the state expected to lose one in reapportionment.

John Dingell‘s and John Conyers’s decades-long tenures in the House should be enough to protect them, and the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions should keep two African-American seats in Detroit split, protecting Dingell and freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke.

That puts Peters and Rep. Sander Levin (D), based in suburban Detroit, as the most obvious targets.  Levin has a high-profile ally in the state’s senior senator, Carl Levin, his younger brother. Levin’s district contains more registered Democrats than Peters, giving him an edge if the two ended up squaring off in a primary against each other.

6. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.

With Republicans drawing the state’s district lines for the first time this century, Democrats in the North Carolina delegation will all have to sweat out the redistricting process -- and Kissell has the most to fear.  He’s made no friends with his party’s leadership, relying on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to bail him out this year thanks to his poor fundraising. And he’s not on good terms with his party’s base after voting against his party’s signature health care law. 

With few friends to count on, Kissell is bound to see the lines of his gerrymandered district change to his detriment.  In the last redistricting, Democrats neatly left out GOP territory in the conservative Charlotte exurbs, while including downtown precincts in Charlotte.  There’s little chance those lines will survive.

7. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio

Sutton looks like one of the odd members out in the state’s redistricting shuffle.  Ohio is slated to lose two House seats in reapportionment, a process that Republicans unilaterally control in Ohio. The Cleveland-Akron area, which is losing population, will be the state’s prime target for downsizing.

Sutton has several strikes against her: She’s only been in office since 2006, giving her less seniority than all but one of the delegation’s Democrats. She suffered a political scare this year, even though her Akron-based district is solidly Democratic. And her district could be seamlessly parceled out to the two neighboring Democratic seats.

8. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio

The other Ohio Democrat at risk from the reshuffling is Kucinich. On paper, his seniority should play to his advantage, but his cool relations with party leadership in both Washington and Columbus could jeopardize his longtime hold on his Cleveland seat.

It would be easy for mapmakers to put the city of Cleveland in one district, pitting him against Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, but that could run afoul of guidelines encouraging African-American representation. Or Republicans could split up the district in different pieces, eliminating a natural base of support for Kucinich.  Either way, his chances of returning for another term are much longer than he’s ever faced.

9. Reps.-elect Bill Johnson/Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio

Republicans control redistricting in Ohio, but if their goal is to make most incumbents’ seats safer (over a map designed to maximize the number of Republicans), they may eliminate one of their own freshmen in order to consolidate their gains.

If that happens, the two Republicans most at risk are Johnson and Gibbs, who both represent rural, expansive districts in eastern Ohio that are among the least populated in the state.  One possibility is that parts of the two districts would be combined, leaving one on the outside looking in. 

10. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa.

Republicans have a reputation of drawing politically favorable lines in Pennsylvania, and they are going to get the chance again. Their likely target is Critz, whom Republicans failed to beat twice in the past year; the third time could be a charm thanks to redistricting.

Critz, who holds the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha, doesn’t have the clout of his predecessor -- and sits in a district that is losing population.  A logical scenario would combine much of his seat with veteran Pittsburgh-area Rep. Mike Doyle (D), who would have an advantage in a head-to-head contest.

Honorable mentions: Reps. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.; Heath Shuler, D-N.C.; Rep.-elect Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Rep.-elect Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y.; Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio; Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.; Dan Lungren, R-Calif.

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