‘A decade of power’: Statehouse wins position GOP to dominate redistricting

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Ally Mutnick and Sabrina Rodriguez

‘A decade of power’: Statehouse wins position GOP to dominate redistricting

After the 2019 elections, Republicans were already set to have total control over the crafting of more than twice as many congressional seats as Democrats. And after a weak showing on Tuesday, Democrats did nothing to reverse that disadvantage, giving Republicans a chance to draw favorable maps that will help them elect their preferred state and federal representatives for the next five election cycles.

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The GOP was jubilant. By Wednesday afternoon, Republicans appeared to have flipped both the state House and Senate in New Hampshire — and more importantly to them, they blocked Democrats from making gains after extreme spending from both sides.

“The results that we saw last night and that will continue to come out throughout the day today and the rest of this week will put the Republican Party in a position where we’re able to secure a decade of power across the country,” said Austin Chambers, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “And it’s something that the Democrats were desperate for, and they came up well short.”

Votes are still being tallied, but it appears Democrats missed nearly all of their top targets — though there’s a slight chance they could gain control in the Arizona House and Senate. Party operatives concede they are not on track to win the Michigan or the Iowa houses, either chamber in Pennsylvania or the Minnesota state Senate, which was their most promising target this cycle.

Democrats did not flip the two seats needed to claim the majority in Minnesota’s upper chamber, which would have given them trifecta control of both chambers and the governor’s office. That outcome gives them less of an opening to protect some of the Democratic incumbents clustered around the Twin Cities next year when Minnesota is likely to lose a seat in the next redistricting.

The biggest disappointment came in the seat-rich state of Texas, Democrats needed nine seats to reclaim the majority after flipping a dozen in the midterms. Though some races remain uncalled, so far Democrats were able to unseat one incumbent and Republicans offset that with another pickup.

Now Texas Republicans, retaining control of the Senate and the governor’s mansion, will have total authority over the drawing of as many as 39 congressional districts in the state. Democrats fear Republicans will pack and crack the rapidly diversifying suburbs to dilute unfriendly voters. Despite targeting 10 districts, Democrats failed to flip a single targeted seat in 2020 on the current map, which was drawn by the GOP roughly a decade ago.

Nationally, Republicans are touting the legislative election results as an even bigger victory for the party than 2010, when the GOP flipped 22 state chambers. State legislative and other Republican operatives have repeatedly noted how DLCC, a new group called Forward Majority and other outside interests spent major sums of money to secure down-ballot wins and came up with nothing to show for it.

Forward Majority, for example, spent more than $ 32 million in an effort to flip state legislative chambers in Florida, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina. Democrats needed to win four seats to flip Florida’s state Senate — and they were targeting key state House races in an effort to shrink the GOP majority there.

Instead, Democrats saw a loss of House seats in Florida, the nation’s largest battleground state, which Trump won on Tuesday night.

“A lot of money is spent in states like Florida, but how are they spending it? Don’t just invest in television ads. Invest in field,” said Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of the Democratic Party’s younger progressive voices gaining traction, adding much of the losses she’s seen from Democrats stems from a lack of field game, partially due to Democrats not having face-to-face interactions with voters over the pandemic.

To be sure, Democrats are much better positioned than they were after 2010, when the GOP controlled the map-making process in nearly every major state. Democrats have since elected governors in Pennsylvania, Kansas and Wisconsin who can veto unfriendly maps.

Michigan instituted a redistricting commission, which will take the power out of GOP hands. In total, there will be 124 congressional seats in ten states drawn by a commission and 47 seats drawn by legislatures in states controlled by both parties ahead of 2022.

But Republicans will likely have total control over the mapmaking process for 181 districts, while Democrats will draw the maps for 76 districts, according to statistics tallied by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group started by former Attorney General Eric Holder to break the GOP’s chokehold on redistricting. It’s a slight improvement from the 2011 cycle when Republicans had control over 213 seats.

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In a sign of the extent to which they expect litigation fights over the maps, Democrats invested in low-profile state Supreme court cases and saw some success. In Ohio, Democrats reduced the conservative majority down to 4-3 on the Supreme court. And in Michigan, they are well-positioned to create a liberal majority on the court, which could take up challenges to the state’s new redistricting commission. They also blocked a supermajority in the Wisconsin legislature that could override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ veto.

Democrats won trifecta control in the Virginia elections last year, but voters on Tuesday passed an amendment to create a redistricting commission, depriving them of a chance to have total say over the new map and better protect their Democratic incumbents.

Still, the Democrats said it was clear they had to regroup over the next two years — and over the next decade — to start to prepare for 2031.

“We need to go back and start investing directly into states to build from the ground up,” Polizzi said.

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