Huge GOP Wins in Ohio Complicate Redraw

by Nathan L. Gonzales November 9, 2010 · 8:00 AM EST

Five new Republicans will join the Ohio Congressional delegation in January, but they may not want to get too comfortable on Capitol Hill.

The GOP wave that swept across the Buckeye State last week dramatically changed the makeup of the delegation from 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans to 13 Republicans and 5 Democrats. But the 2012 redistricting process could leave one or more of those Republicans out in the cold.

Ohio is projected to lose two Congressional districts during reapportionment, setting up a game of musical chairs for 18 Members with only 16 seats.

“I think we won one too many seats,” one GOP strategist laughed. “But that’s a good problem to have.”

Republicans will be in control of the map-making process, thanks to a tremendous election night. But just being in charge of the process in a state doesn’t necessarily make it easy on a party to maximize gains.

Without any obvious candidates for retirement in the delegation, it’s inevitable that four Members will get drawn into two districts, but who and where?
“The problem is that there are three urban centers and all of the Democrats are around one of them,” the GOP source said.

Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich (10th district), Marcia Fudge (11th district), Betty Sutton (13th district) and Tim Ryan (17th district) are all in the northeast corner of the state, in and around Cleveland. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s 9th district stretches westward to Toledo. Next year, Republicans will represent Cincinnati and Columbus, the other two urban areas.

Depending on where the state’s population losses took place, it might be possible to combine two of the Democratic districts together (such as Kucinich and Fudge, according to one source) but that still leaves one district to be eliminated.

One seat will likely have to be eliminated elsewhere in the state — and that territory will be held entirely by the Republicans.

In Ohio, redistricting oversight for the state legislature falls to a five-member bipartisan commission consisting of the governor (newly elected Republican John Kasich), the secretary of state (newly elected Republican Jon Husted) and state auditor (newly elected Republican Dave Yost). One member of each party from the Legislature is also required. 

“You’re going to have endless possibilities,” said Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, about the potential combinations of Members and districts.

One idea is to combine parts of Kaptur’s district with GOP Rep. Bob Latta’s 5th district below it, according to one GOP strategist who is familiar with Ohio. Another Republican source suggested taking Youngstown, one of the population centers of Ryan’s district, and combining it with the 6th district, where Rep.-elect Bill Johnson beat Democratic Rep. Charlie Wilson on Election Day.

“It all depends on how much risk you want to take,” the source said.

Republicans will want to avoid spreading themselves too thin in order to maximize the number of seats they control in the state. At the same time, they want to avoid creating competitive districts that can become prime targets in a neutral or Democratic-leaning political environment.

Members would rather have a safer district than having a more competitive seat that requires that they have to constantly endure competitive re-election races.

It’s no secret that Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R) would like to have some of the fast-growing suburbs north of Columbus removed from his 12th district, but that area has to go to someone. Rep.-elect Steve Stivers (R) already has the bulk of Franklin County, including Ohio State University, in the 15th district — one that could be tough to hold in a presidential election.

Rep. Steve Austria (R) already has a small part of Franklin County in the 7th, but he might have a difficult time winning re-election if more is added, moving his district’s population center from the west — where he is from — to the east.

With a decade of political livelihood at stake, these Members will not take the upcoming redistricting process lightly. In Ohio, the Congressional lines will originate in the GOP-controlled state Legislature — a familiar place for many Republicans in the Congressional delegation. The new map will be approved or vetoed by Gov. Kasich. 

“You’ll have a lot of former legislators lobbying their friends,” said Carey, who ran for the state House back in 1998 and lost to Wilson.
Republican Reps. Latta, Tiberi, Austria, Jim Jordan, Jean Schmidt, and John Boehner, as well as Reps.-elect Gibbs and Stivers, all served in the Legislature before being elected to Congress.

If one Republican Member challenged Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) for his Senate seat in 2012, it would make the process easier because their district could then be parceled out to others. But there is no immediate movement to do so. Tiberi and Jordan have been mentioned, but neither seems likely. 

[Updated 11/9/10 to say that the reapportionment board draws the legislative lines and the legislature draws the congressional lines.]