New Congressional Maps Deliver Presents for Some, Coal for Others

by Jessica Taylor January 5, 2012 · 11:33 AM EST

While most of the news was focused on Iowa and the presidential race during the holidays, several states were rushing to meet year-end deadlines to redraw their congressional lines. In New Jersey, losing a congressional seat now guaranteed a Democrat will be on the chopping block, while in Washington the new 10th District is favored to go to a Democrat while two incumbent Republicans were shored up. New Mexico lines will go virtually unchanged, while a federal court ordered West Virginia in the first week of the year to redo its maps. Here’s a rundown of the highlights:

New Jersey. With the Garden State losing a congressional district, the state was always going to feature an incumbent-incumbent match-up – but Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman’s decision to primary fellow Democrat Bill Pascrell instead of trying to unseat GOP Rep. Scott Garrett wasn’t the one Democrats hoped would happen.

Rothman drew the short straw when independent redistricting chair John Farmer chose the GOP plan on Dec. 23, that decimated his district. Still, Democrats were immediately hopeful that Rothman could pose a strong challenge to the conservative Garrett, even though the new 5th District voted 51 percent for John McCain in 2008 and 54 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. Rothman remained coy about his plans, and announced the following week he would instead challenge Pascrell in what will be one of the cycle’s marquee primaries. The DCCC reportedly tried to try keep Rothman out of the incumbent match-up by promising him at least $1 million in aid, to no avail.

Now, Rothman, who currently represents about 54 percent of the newly-drawn district, including 61 percent of registered Democrats -- will try to consolidate his former political base in Englewood (where he was mayor for six years during the 1980s) and the rest of Bergen County, where he has the backing of several local officials, including the county Democratic chairman, while Pascrell will try to lean on his Passaic County connections and has the support of the party chair there.

Rothman’s move leaves Garrett in a much better position for reelection, while Democrats are still searching for a challenger to him. Passaic County Freeholder Terry Duffy has formed an exploratory committee, and former New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson has also said he’s mulling the race, while other possible candidates include Assemblywoman Connie Wagner and state Sen. Bob Gordon.

The state’s most vulnerable Republicans also saw their districts shored up, with freshman Jon Runyan losing the Democratic-leaning town of Cherry Hill to Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., making the Republican’s district slightly safer, moving about one point to a district McCain won with nearly 48 percent but that Bush won with 54 percent in 2004. Two-term Republican Leonard Lance’s central district saw the most improvement in the state, going from a 49 percent McCain district to a 52 percent one, and where Bush won 55 percent.

New Mexico. On Dec. 29, a district judge settled on a plan that only slightly revised the state’s congressional boundaries, keeping both the geographic and partisan breakdowns in the three districts virtually the same. The plan was chosen out of three possible options, and had the support of Republicans in the state, including Gov. Susana Martinez, as well as a group of state Democrats. Some Hispanic groups wanted a plan that would have boosted the Hispanic percentage in the 2nd District, but the selected map boosts the numbers less than one percent, giving the district a 46.7 percent Hispanic voting age percentage, still the highest of the state’s three districts.

Washington. Both parties had reasons to smile when Washington’s bipartisan redistricting panel unveiled its long-awaited maps on Dec. 28, as Republicans shored up two vulnerable incumbents while Democrats will have the advantage in the state’s new 10th District.

Former GOP Sen. Slade Gorton, one of the panel’s co-chairs, boasted that the redrawn 1st District, now an open seat as Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., runs for governor, may be the most evenly split district in the country – a claim national Republicans are skeptical of. While McCain only won about 42 percent here in 2008, Republican Dino Rossi narrowly topped 50 percent in both his failed 2010 Senate race and 2008 gubernatorial bid.

Several Democrats could run here, including Republican Dave Reichert’s 2010 challenge Suzan DelBene and his 2006 and 2008 challenger Darcy Burner, along with state Rep. Roger Goodman, state Sen. Steve Hobbs and former state Rep. Laura Ruderman. Shortly after the new maps were announced, Republican John Koster, who ran a close race against Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen in the 2nd District last cycle, said he would run here.

The newly-created 10th District, centered in Olympia, will be a Democratic seat where Obama took nearly 60 percent. The frontrunner so far is Democrat Denny Heck, who lost by 6 points to Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in the then-open 3rd District in 2010. Heck’s been running for the unnamed district for some time, and has over $580,000 in the bank through the end of 2011. Republican Dick Muri, who came within 10 points of Democratic Rep. Adam Smith in 2010, has said he’ll run here, banking on his Pierce County base to help him.

The commission also created the state’s first minority-majority district by pushing Smith’s 9th District northward to lose parts of Fort Smith. Even more solidly Democratic now, the eight-term congressman could draw a primary challenger in the new majority-minority district.

More consequential for Republicans were the commission’s changes to both Reichert and Herrera Beutler’s seats, making both more GOP friendly. Reichert’s 8th District now reaches eastward over the Cascade Mountains, and as a result gets about 5 points more Republican, where McCain won 46 percent and Rossi took around 55 percent in each of his races. Meanwhile, Herrera Beutler’s 3rd District became slightly more Republican, going from a seat McCain won about 44 percent to one where he took nearly 47 percent. Rossi also performed well here, taking at least 53 percent in 2010 and 55 percent in 2008.

West Virginia. On Jan. 3, a federal court struck down West Virginia’s congressional maps lawmakers passed last year, ruling that the population imbalance between GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s 2nd District and freshman Rep. David McKinley’s 1st District was too great to pass constitutional muster.

Capito’s district, which snakes through the center of the state, contains about 5,000 more people than McKinley’s district. The original plan made only minimal changes to the current congressional maps, moving just Mason County into the 3rd District in its effort not to split counties – but in order to comply with the judges’ orders, that may be unavoidable.

The legislature has until Jan. 17 to correct the population inequities, or the court will draw a new map – a scenario the federal judges themselves wrote they hoped didn’t happen. One plan that had been originally proposed would double-bunk McKinley and Capito, but even then Republicans are confident they would still avoid a primary between the two.

Capito has consistently beat back Democratic attempts to challenge her, even as she has passed on several opportunities to run statewide. As the Mountain State has become even more conservative in recent years – and is likely to hand Obama a significant defeat – Democratic opportunities here are slim. McKinley remains their top target, but he’s amassed a large war chest and will likely report over $1 million in funds at the end of 2011. His 2010 challenger, Democrat Mike Oliverio, came within 1,440 votes of McKinley after toppling Rep. Alan Mollohan in the primary. Oliverio had been planning a rematch before dropping his bid. Now, Democrats have turned their attention to wooing state delegate Tim Manchin, the cousin of popular Sen. Joe Manchin. Republicans see an opportunity against Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall if they can recruit a strong challenger.