Notes on the State of Politics: April 6, 2022

Rating new House maps in Ohio, Maryland, and Louisiana

Dear Readers: This is the latest edition of Notes on the State of Politics, which features short updates on elections and politics.

— The Editors

Ohio: Republicans still have a chance to win all but 2 seats

We noted last week that the Ohio Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for the ongoing challenge to the state’s congressional map that take the challenge beyond the state’s May 3 primary date, meaning that the challenge is unlikely to be resolved in time for the 2022 elections. Unless something changes, we (and others) are treating Ohio’s congressional map as final, at least for 2022.

This is a disappointment for Democrats, as the map that appears likely to be in place for November is still drawn to favor Republicans. The state’s new redistricting process did not really prompt the creation of a balanced map. However, the new process — and, more importantly, the state court’s decision to attempt to enforce the provisions approved by voters that aimed to create a fairer redistricting system — did give Democrats a better chance to win more than 2 seats compared to what would have happened had the new rules not been in place, because it is not hard to draw a fairly durable 13-2 Republican gerrymander in Ohio.

As it was, state Republicans created a map late last year that the state Supreme Court threw out. Republicans then drew a new map, the one likely to be in place for November, that is similar to the one the court rejected. However, there are some changes that are leading us to rate this map differently than the previous one. The data we are citing for these districts are from Dave’s Redistricting App.

Of 15 districts in the state, Democrats are guaranteed only 2 of them: The overwhelmingly Democratic seats held by Reps. Shontel Brown (D, OH-11) in Cleveland and Joyce Beatty (D, OH-3) in Columbus.

Republicans, meanwhile, should win at least 10 seats, barring calamity. Hypothetically, Democrats could compete against Rep. Mike Turner (R, OH-10) in his Donald Trump +3.5 Dayton-based seat or Rep. Mike Carey (R, OH-15) in his Trump +7 seat that extends west from Columbus, but likely not in this cycle. Carey does have an interesting opponent, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor (a Democrat who lost a closely-watched House special election in OH-12 in 2018), but we just don’t think it’s the right year for him to put a scare into Carey. And Turner is a strong performer who has done well even in bad Republican years. One other somewhat competitive district just opened up: Rep. Bob Gibbs (R, OH-7) just announced his retirement from a significantly redrawn district that takes in some western Cleveland suburbs and then extends south (the district was substantially new to Gibbs). Gibbs was facing a primary challenge from, most notably, former Trump aide Max Miller (R), who Trump has endorsed. This is a Trump +9 seat, so we don’t see it as really gettable for Democrats in this cycle. So these 3 districts, plus another 7 (districts 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, and 14) all start as Safe Republican in our ratings.

That leaves 3 others — OH-1, OH-9, and OH-13 — that we are starting as Toss-ups. Under a previous iteration of this map, we called these districts Leans Republican. So what changed? Let’s go district by district.

The Cincinnati-based OH-1 is the most obvious indicator that even this new map is drawn to favor Republicans. In order to protect long-serving Rep. Steve Chabot (R, OH-1), or his eventual Republican replacement, GOP mapmakers have linked the city of Cincinnati, which cannot be split because of the state’s new voter-approved redistricting rules, with Warren County, a growing and deeply Republican suburban/exurban county bordering Cincinnati’s Hamilton County. A map not designed to help Republicans would draw OH-1 just inside of Hamilton County — the county, which voted for Joe Biden by 16 points, has just about 45,000 more people than the ideal-sized congressional district. So a Hamilton County-only district would be very clearly Democratic-leaning. But linking Cincinnati to Warren County improves the Republican performance in the district. That said, Biden still won this version of OH-1 by 8.5 points, an improvement from the now-defunct map we analyzed in December, which Biden won by less than 2 points. That’s enough to make OH-1 a Toss-up in our view, and Chabot appears likely to face off with Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman (D). Still, this is a district with clear GOP lineage: Even as he won statewide in 2018 by less than 4 points — or less than half of Trump’s 2020 statewide margin — Gov. Mike DeWine (R) only lost this district by 3 points. So Biden’s margin in the district likely overstates how Democratic it is, particularly in the context of the likely Republican-leaning environment in the fall.

However, this version of OH-1 is still better for Democrats than the one that Chabot currently holds. That district voted for Trump by 3 points, and Chabot himself won by 7 in 2020. Map 1 shows the differences between the current OH-1 and the new one. Note that the turf it discarded voted for Trump by about 17 points while the turf it added voted for Biden by about 20.

Map 1: Changes in OH-1

Moving north, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9) finds her previously Safe Democratic, Toledo-to-Cleveland district reoriented as a Republican-leaning district that contains Toledo as well as areas west and east of it. Just like on the old map thrown out by the court, GOP mapmakers worked to make Kaptur’s seat more Republican by not including the college town of Bowling Green, located south of Toledo, even though a more compactly-drawn map would logically include it. Still, this district is a little bit better for Kaptur than the one we analyzed in December — Trump won this one by 3, while he won the latter by 4.5. Additionally, the district still has some ancestral Democratic DNA, just like the aforementioned OH-1 has some ancestral Republican DNA. Despite being nearly a dozen points more Republican than OH-1 in the 2020 presidential race, Democratic statewide candidates for Senate and governor did better in OH-9 in 2018 than they did in OH-1. We still see this as a clear Republican pickup opportunity, but we’re going to give the long-serving Kaptur the benefit of the doubt to start and call this district a Toss-up as well. She will likely face either state Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R) or state Rep. Craig Riedel (R) in the fall.

The other competitive district comes in the Akron-Canton area, OH-13. This is in some ways the heir to the old OH-13, an Akron-to-Youngstown district that was drawn at the start of last decade to be a Democratic vote sink but became a swing district by the end of the decade: Barack Obama won it by 27.5 points in 2012 but Biden won it by only 3.5 in 2020. Rep. Tim Ryan (D, OH-13), recognizing the likely fate of his district, announced early in the cycle that he was running for U.S. Senate, and his Mahoning Valley base (the Youngstown/Warren area) is now split among Safe Republican districts on this map. The new OH-13, meanwhile, is a compact swing district that Biden carried by 3 points, a shift from the OH-13 on the defunct map, which Biden carried by less a point and that is arguably redder down-ballot because it extended from Akron to take in some traditionally Republican western Cleveland suburbs. These shifts, again, are enough for us to look at this district as a Toss-up. State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D), who comes from a prominent Black Democratic political family in Akron, is the likely Democratic nominee; meanwhile, Donald Trump has endorsed Madison Gesiotto Gilbert (R), a conservative commentator and 2014’s Miss Ohio, amidst a crowded GOP field.

Remember that Ohio’s current House delegation is 12-4 Republican, and the state is losing a seat. So the side that wins at least 2 of the 3 Toss-ups will maintain what they already have from the state. We would not be surprised if we eventually picked Republicans to win all 3 of the marginal seats described above, given the environment. So the bottom line here is that Republicans could still very well achieve their goal of winning 13 of Ohio’s 15 congressional districts. However, the changes forced by previous court interventions into Ohio congressional redistricting give Democrats a better chance to win more than the bare minimum of 2 seats.

Maryland: Republicans might be able to win a second seat

Last week, we wrote an analysis of a new Maryland U.S. House map, which Democratic state legislators drew in response to a judge’s finding that the previous map, a more blatant Democratic gerrymander, was illegal. Since then, the state legislature has approved the map and Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) signed it, apparently satisfied that he and his allies were able to use the courts to push for a better map than the previous Democratic gerrymander (Democrats also dropped an appeal of the judge’s decision). So it looks like this map is set for 2022.

We already went over the map in some depth last week, so we don’t want to repeat ourselves here. But we do want to note our ratings.

On the previous map, we listed 7 Safe Democratic seats and 1 Leans Republican seat, a reconfigured Eastern Shore district that barely voted for Biden in 2020. We thought Rep. Andy Harris (R, MD-1) was still favored in 2022, but the district was a lot more competitive than the previous iteration. The redraw forced by the judge restored MD-1 as a Safe Republican seat.

Additionally, the remap made MD-6 more competitive. The district, which extends from the Republican western Maryland panhandle all the way to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, now voted for Biden by just 10 points. That makes Rep. David Trone (D, MD-6) at least somewhat vulnerable in this environment. One way to put this into some perspective: The entire state of Virginia voted for Biden by the exact same tally as MD-6 in 2020, 54%-44%. As we saw in 2021, statewide Republicans were able to narrowly win Virginia, so a 10-point Biden margin doesn’t necessarily put a district like MD-6 out of range for Republicans. We’re going to start MD-6 as Leans Democratic.

We’re rating the state’s other 6 districts as Safe Democratic.

Is the new Maryland map “fair?” That is in the eye of the beholder, we suppose, although it is less unfair than the initial Democratic gerrymander. So the judicial intervention led to a better map for Republicans than they otherwise would have gotten. That makes what happened in Maryland somewhat similar to what happened in Ohio, in that judicial intervention did somewhat dampen the redistricting power of the majority party.

Louisiana: Republicans get their way

At the beginning of February, the Louisiana legislature gaveled in for a special session aimed at addressing redistricting. At the congressional level, legislators were tasked with redrawing the state’s 6 districts — of those, LA-2 is majority Black and is held by Democrats, while the other 5 elect white Republicans.

During the session, some members of the Democratic legislative caucus introduced bills that would have created a second majority Black district. Their argument was that in a state that is almost exactly one-third Black, Black voters should be able to elect candidates of their choice in 2 of 6 districts.

It is easy to draw a compact Black-majority seat in the New Orleans area, but a second such district would need to take in parts of northern Louisiana. Louisiana’s map in the early 1990s featured versions of both districts, but the latter was struck down, as courts found that mappers relied too heavily on race and ignored other factors, such as geographic communities of interest. Similarly, Republicans argued that a second Black-majority seat would be oddly shaped, as it would have to connect minority voters in disparate corners of the state. It is also possible that a district with only a small Black majority could elect a Republican if Democratic enthusiasm was low enough.

On the very last day of the special session, Feb. 18, the legislature passed a plan that its Republican majority favored — it kept 5 districts designed to elect white Republicans. There were, however, a few details that left some Republican legislators unhappy: specifically, Grant and St. Mary parishes ended up being split. These 2 parishes — the former in the north, and the latter along the coast — had never been split before, so the map that ultimately passed was met with complaints from some Republican legislators from those parishes.

In the meantime, the largely status quo map was sent over to Gov. John Bel Edwards’s (D-LA) desk. Edwards’s potential next move seemed to be the top issue on the minds of state political observers. The governor previously expressed support for a second Black majority-seat, but the 2022 regular legislative session was just around the corner — did he really want to antagonize legislative leadership by vetoing their map? One option for Edwards was to let the bill become law without his signature — immediately north, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) took a similar approach when his legislature passed a map that he had reservations about.

On March 9, Edwards, to the delight of his party, vetoed the congressional map. The governor cited the argument that the breakdown of the map should be reflective of the state’s racial demographics.

With the ball back in their court, legislative Republicans held a sufficient majority in the state Senate to override Edwards (two-thirds), but were slightly short in the state House — plus they’d have to satisfy some of their own members in the lower chamber who had parochial concerns. It gave Democrats some encouragement that, last year, the legislature held a historic session aimed at overriding some of Edwards’s vetoes, but Republicans walked away empty handed.

This time, though, Republicans came out on top: in a nearly party-line vote, they overrode the governor’s veto. Although the map has prompted litigation, we are assuming the lines stand.

In the first decade of the century, Democrats were competitive enough that they held, or made very strong attempts, at 6 of the 7 seats Louisiana had at the time. But since 2012, Republicans have had a solid hold on 5 of its 6 seats, and that will continue: We rate LA-2 as Safe Democratic and the state’s other 5 districts as Safe Republican.

With that, the prognosis for Louisiana is another decade of scant 2-party competition, although it may see some colorful jungle primaries if any of its seats open up.

Our full U.S. House ratings are available here.