Republicans began this month bracing to lose some of their power to draw congressional maps, and the long-term effects of that. They'll celebrate Thanksgiving with fewer losses than they expected, many more gains, and a path to the House majority in 2022. The difference: solid wins, powered by massive turnout, in most state legislatures.
"This will put the Republican Party in a position where we're able to secure a decade of power across the country," Austin Chambers, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said in a call with reporters after the election. "It's something that the Democrats were desperate for, and they came up well short."
Democrats can't disagree with that. They spent years reverse-engineering the plan they saw Republicans execute in 2010, pouring money into down-ballot races to give them control over new legislative maps that will be drawn next year, once states have data from the 2020 census. It didn't work. At all. Before the election, Republicans had 22 state "trifectas," control of the governor's office and the legislature. After the election, they had 24 of them - and could get 25, depending on the final votes counted in Alaska. When factoring in the states with Republican majorities big enough to override the vetoes of Democratic governors, Republicans will control redistricting in at least 27 states; Democrats will control it in eight states. The best Democratic spin on this: It used to be worse.
"People are focused on Democrats not making gains in 2020, but we measure this by where we were a decade ago," said Patrick Rodenbush, the spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which was created to avoid - well, this. "We've reduced the total number of seats drawn entirely by Republican legislatures and governors from 213 in 2011 to 175 in 2021, and that's before the census."
Republicans entered the 2011 redistricting cycle in their most commanding position since before the New Deal, armed with software that could calculate the most politically efficient distribution of districts. They're entering 2021 with a little less dominance but enough advantages that the party is already hopeful that it can win back the House in 2022, if nothing else changes, based on how yet-to-be-drawn maps distribute their strength.
The fight over those maps will unfold over much of next year, contingent on when an unusually controversial census is fully reported, redistributing the number of seats each state gets in the House. Here's an initial look, divided into five categories. Republican-run states range between those where the party has probably gotten all it can already from the map, and those where it can get more; the smaller number of Democratic-run states may be maxed out already, in terms of what the party can gain. The remaining states are either divided between the major parties or have outsourced new maps to commissions, designed to reduce all partisan advantage.
All red, maxed out (14 states): Ten years ago, the Democratic Party's collapse in the South and Great Plains states put most of those regions under total Republican control. The GOP's position now is actually even stronger than it was then, with Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia, where Democrats had partial or total control over the last maps, now fully managed by Republicans. They're now part of the red archipelago, alongside Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky,North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming; Nebraska, which has a unicameral and technically nonpartisan legislature, is functionally run by Republicans.
There's no bad news for the party here, but there are limits on what it can do. Wyoming and both Dakotas have single at-large House districts and are expected to keep that status after the new census count. Two more states, Alabama and West Virginia, are expected to lose seats, pending the new numbers. Across all of these states, Democrats won just 10 of 66 House seats this month, and it would be difficult to push those numbers lower. In Kentucky, where a simply majority of the Republican state legislature can override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto, the GOP will have full control over the map for the first time in decades; in West Virginia, Republicans will draw the lines for the first time in a century. But Democrats hold just a single House seat in Kentucky and none in West Virginia, where the census may reduce the delegation from three to two seats.
In states with substantial Black populations, at least one majority-minority district is required to comport with the Voting Rights Act. Each majority-Black seat in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee, Democratic strongholds all, will be sticking around in some form. The party's other four seats - two in Indiana, one in Kentucky, one more in Missouri and Tennessee - were already designed to pack Democrats into as few districts as possible, minimizing their clout. But Republicans could redraw several seats that Democrats were competitive in this year, such as South Carolina's Charleston-based 1st District and Nebraska's Omaha-based 2nd, to put them further out of reach. But both seats were drawn to be reliably Republican and shifted left over the decade, demonstrating just how hard it can be to guess what's coming.
All red, not maxed out (five states): Just as they did 10 years ago, Republicans will control redistricting in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. They'll control the process in New Hampshire for the first time in 30 years, too. There are just two House districts to draw in that state, and Democrats currently represent both; creating a seat that would be friendlier to Republicans is doable, but not without making another seat bluer.
But there will be nearly a hundred seats to carve out of the other four states - hence, the resources Democrats burned on this year's legislative campaigns. After the census, Florida is on track for two new seats, Texas for three and North Carolina for one. In the latter state, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has no power to veto maps from the Republican state legislature, but Democratic judges have the majority on the state Supreme Court, unlike in 2011. And a decade of lawsuits over racial gerrymandering has revealed the limits of what Republicans can do in that state, with attempts to minimize the clout of cities and Black voters being struck down repeatedly.
Republicans are in better positions in Florida, Georgia and Texas, whose lines they drew a decade ago under courts that have grown more conservative ever since. In Florida, only the language of an anti-gerrymandering amendment passed by voters restrains the party from increasing its 16-to-11 majority even further, perhaps by making Democratic-leaning seats around Tampa and Orlando more competitive. In Georgia, where Republicans have an 8-to-6 U.S. House majority, they could redraw the suburbs of Atlanta to break up one or both of the seats that Democrats flipped in the Trump era - their 2011 map, obviously, didn't anticipate the GOP collapse up there.
Texas offers more Republican opportunities than any other state, on a map that has shifted toward Democrats since 2011, with pockets of new GOP strength. The current map, drawn when the state jumped from 32 to 36 House seats, was designed to have just one swing seat - the 23rd, which covers most of the U.S.-Mexico border, and which Rep.-elect Tony Gonzales won for the GOP in an upset this month. But the decade ended with single-digit races in nine more districts, two controlled by Democrats (the 7th and 32nd), the rest by Republicans.
The result: Democrats control just 13 of 36 districts in a state where they've now lost three top-of-ticket races by single digits. One of those seats is in a stretch of the Rio Grande Valley that moved sharply toward Republicans this year; two are swing seats around Dallas and Houston. It would be hard for Republicans to shrink Democratic power further, unless, as Democrats expect, there's an attempt to draw maps based on the citizen voting population, and not the total population, a system that the Trump administration tried and failed to produce the data for in adding a citizenship question to the census.
"It's not clear if that's constitutional," Rodenbush said. "It's not clear they'll have the data to do it, and it's not clear the data will be good enough."
Divided government (eight states): There are really two categories here: places where one party can theoretically force maps on governors of the other party, and places where they can't. Republicans added to a legislative supermajority in Kansas, and nearly have one in Louisiana, which means a united party could override the vetoes of each state's Democratic governor. In Maryland and Massachusetts, Democrats have the numbers to pass maps if Republican governors veto them. Alaska is in a category of its own - it's got a single at-large district, and control of the state House in Juneau is still undetermined.
That leaves just three big states meaningfully divided between Republican and Democratic control; Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In the former, a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate will have to sign off on maps, and in the latter two states, Republican majorities aren't large enough to override the vetoes of Democratic governors. All three states now have swing seats that can be shifted with just a few switched precincts; Wisconsin's 3rd District, Minnesota's 1st District, and Pennsylvania's 7th and 12th districts just held races decided by less than four points. And both Minnesota and Pennsylvania may lose a House seat, forcing an incumbent Democrat into a district with an incumbent Republican.
Nonpartisan redistricting (15 states): More states than ever before fit into this category, and the number was even higher before Nov. 3, when Missouri voters narrowly revoked parts of a commission they'd passed in 2018. Next year, seven states will need to have their maps approved by independent commissions for the first time: Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Utah.
Ten years ago, just three of those states - Colorado, New Jersey and New York - were under divided partisan control. Commissions will undo Republican-friendly maps in Michigan and Virginia, potentially shoring up Democrats who flipped Republican-leaning seats in 2018 and held them this month. In Ohio and Utah, where Republicans control 16 of 20 total seats, they'll still shape the process, but the commissions could undo the choices that minimized Democratic power, such as splitting Salt Lake City and Cincinnati into two seats, both of them hard for Republicans to lose.
In Hawaii, Idaho and Vermont, nonpartisan redistricting is unlikely to create competitive seats. In Montana, which may gain a second member for Congress for the first time since 1990, a commission could create two balanced districts, or two that lean a bit toward either party; in either case, Democrats would have more to gain, as they haven't won the at-large seat since 1994. Arizona, California, Iowa and Washington have numerous competitive seats, and only Iowa has gotten redder since 2011.
All blue (eight states): On paper, Democrats start the cycle in an even worse position that they did 10 years ago. Their support of nonpartisan redistricting commissions took them out of the equation, or at least limited their influence, in a few big states they'd otherwise be positioned to redraw. They'll now have total control in only one of the country's biggest 10 states, Illinois. The rest of their trifectas are in states that have five seats to divvy up or fewer: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Unless there's a surprise in the census, this arrangement will cost Democrats seats. Rhode Island is on the cusp of having a single seat, after 90 years of having two. Oregon is expected to gain a sixth seat after the census, though its current map, which sends a 4-to-1 Democratic delegation to the House, is most likely to get another sprawling, Republican-friendly seat. Illinois is likely to lose a seat, and Democrats have 13 of the current 18; shoring up Rep. Cheri Bustos's northwest district and forcing the five Republicans into four southern districts is probably the best Democrats can do.
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-David Perdue, "Change."Republicans believe that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., teed up their message in Georgia's runoffs by telling a boisterous crowd in Brooklyn about them: "First we take Georgia, then we change America." This is the second Republican ad to use that 10-day-old quote, twinning it with remarks that Democrat Jon Ossoff made when the runoff began. "The Schumer/Pelosi/Ossoff change? Defund police, voting rights for illegal immigrants, Washington, D.C. as the 51st state," warns a narrator, two stances that Ossoff doesn't share and one that he does.
- Jon Ossoff, "Succeed." Perdue's opponent is continuing to reintroduce himself as a partner to the person Georgians narrowly voted into the presidency: Joe Biden. "The only way to beat this virus is to give our new president the chance to succeed," Ossoff says here, mentioning Biden specifically, and warning that Perdue will try to make Biden fail "just like he did with President Obama."
- Meidas Touch, "Looting Loeffler."A super PAC founded this year by three brothers with no political experience, Meidas Touch had mostly focused on translating the president's most baffling moments, especially at coronavirus news conferences, into embarrassing ads. Its first effort in Georgia's runoffs, which will go on the air tomorrow, uses Fox News clips about Sen. Kelly Loeffler's stock scandal to portray her as "knee-deep in the swamp" - as Jeanine Pirro puts it. Fox has moved on from that sort of populist attack on Loeffler, or on Sen. David Perdue, but a 60-second edit of this video will have $100,000 behind it, as part of a $1 million planned investment.
The Georgia Way, "Domino."Like it has done across a series of conservative-leaning states, the Senate Majority PAC created a new, blandly named vehicle for its Georgia advertising. The Georgia Way makes its debut on the air with ads emphasizing the issue that made Democrats target these states in the first place: Perdue and Loeffler appearing to benefit from information about the coming pandemic. "Now, he's blocking relief for small businesses," a narrator says of Perdue, combining the stock issue with Democrats' desire to pass another stimulus bill.
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In the states
The double Senate runoff in Georgia remains the biggest political battle in the country, with Republican surrogates stepping up their work for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and Democrats beginning to provide air cover for their candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who made stops in the state before the Nov. 3 elections, will return to the state to rally with the GOP duo. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence will hold "Defend the Majority" rallies in Canton and Gainesville, both in counties - Cherokee and Hall, respectively - where Republicans need to run up the score.
Before that unfolds, the start-up super PAC Meidas Touch is kicking off a $1 million buy with $100,000 behind an anti-Loeffler ad, as mentioned above in "Ad Watch." The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC will begin its $5 million buy in Georgia, one-tenth of the money reserved for digital advertising and the rest marked for TV. Its ads, as also mentioned above, target the Republicans over the stock scandals.
"Georgia's Republican ticket is made up of a pair of corrupt, out-of-touch politicians who profited off of the pandemic and can't be trusted in Washington," SMP's J.B. Poersch said in a statement announcing the ads. "The more Georgians learn about Senator Perdue and Loeffler's stock trading scandals and efforts to block covid relief while workers and small businesses take a hit, the more vulnerable they become."