Notes on the State of Politics: September 29, 2021

OR finishes redistricting, with CO, ME, and NE close behind; many other states release drafts

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail
Dear Readers: Later this week, the UVA Center for Politics is hosting several events that we’d encourage anyone interested in politics or history to attend. All three of the following events are free and open to the public.

Tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 30), Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will give a political update to UVA Clubs, where he’ll discuss the upcoming 2022 midterms and look ahead to the 2024 campaign. This virtual event will begin at 1 p.m. and registration is at this link.

Later tomorrow (also Thursday, Sept. 30), the Center will host a screening of The Legacy of Black Wall Street, a film documenting the rise and fall of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and will last until 9 p.m. at the Ting Pavilion, 700 E. Main St. in Charlottesville. Masks are required for attendees. More information can be found here.

And on 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1, the Center will hold a screening of its new documentary Five Years North, a film documenting the story of Luis, an undocumented Guatemalan boy in New York City who struggles to work, study, and evade Judy — the Cuban-American ICE officer patrolling his neighborhood. The film aims to bring a human perspective to the debate around America’s immigration system. Proof of vaccination is required for the in-person screening at Light House Studio at Vinegar Hill, 220 W. Market St. in Charlottesville — tickets are available here. The film and program also will be available virtually at https://livestream.com/tavco/fiveyearsnorth

— The Editors

Redistricting: As Oregon adopts a new map, three other states close in on plans

Last week, in the middle of what turned out to be a tumultuous special legislative session in Oregon, the Crystal Ball looked at the congressional map that Democrats were pushing for. After a COVID scare that prompted leadership to halt negotiations for several days, the Oregon legislature convened over the weekend. Facing the prospect of a walkout by Republican legislators, Democrats proposed a new map that was designed to be more palatable to the GOP. It worked. On Monday, enough Republicans showed up to allow Democrats to pass their plan.

To appease Republicans, Democratic mappers ended up giving Rep. Kurt Schrader (D, OR-5), who currently holds a Joe Biden +10 seat, less help. Originally, the Democratic plan gave Schrader three counties south of Portland that were, altogether, electorally marginal, but added a critical mass of deep blue Portland precincts — this would have pushed OR-5 about 6% leftward. Meanwhile, Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D, OR-3) historically Portland-centric seat was redrawn to reach across the Cascades, grabbing the blue-trending Bend area.

Under the enacted plan, OR-3 will remain confined to metro Portland while OR-5 takes Bend. By our calculations, the new OR-5 would have given Biden a 53%-44% margin last year — so its partisanship will not be much different from that of the current district.

OR-6 will debut as a district that includes Salem in the south and extends north to Tigard. Though OR-6 saw some minor pro-GOP changes for the final draft, it would have favored Biden by a 14-point margin if it were in place last year.

With redistricting completed, Democrats seem poised to net a seat out of the Beaver State. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R, OR-2) is essentially assured reelection in his eastern Oregon seat, while Reps. Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici (D, OR-1) are safe in their deep blue districts. We’d rate districts 5 and 6 as Likely Democratic to start, while Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (D, OR-4) district may still (barely) be on the board. DeFazio had a spirited challenge last year from Army veteran Alek Skarlatos, but the redrawn OR-4 would have given Donald Trump just 42%. Skarlatos previously announced plans to pursue a rematch, but he may now reconsider his options.

As Oregon’s new lines are official, our attention will now turn to the 43 other states that have yet to enact maps.

Late last night, Colorado’s inaugural redistricting commission approved a final plan. While the state Supreme Court has to sign off on the plan, it seems unlikely the court will reject it. Map 1 breaks down the 2020 election by the new plan’s lines.

Map 1: Colorado commission final plan

Under the new plan, the delegation’s current 4 Democratic members are all given favorable seats. In the case of Rep. Diana DeGette (D, CO-1), perhaps too favorable: to the chagrin of Democrats, commissioners did not unpack her 80% Biden seat — instead, CO-1 will continue to overlap almost exactly with Denver’s borders. While Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s (D, CO-7) district takes on wide swaths of new territory, extending south of Pikes Peak, it still supported Biden 56%-42%, making it a fair bellwether for the state — that is, to say, clearly Democratic.

Republicans, meanwhile, will be favored to retain their three seats. In eastern Colorado, Rep. Ken Buck (R, CO-4) is safe, while Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R, CO-5) Colorado Springs district is now entirely confined to El Paso County — it favored Trump 53%-43%, but may see some competitive races later this decade. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R, CO-3), who has shown a knack for antagonizing Democrats, keeps a seat that runs from the Western Slope to Pueblo. Though Boebert may be more vulnerable than a generic Republican, statewide Democratic candidates have had a hard time getting past the high-40s in this district.

Finally, the new 8th District runs from the northern Denver suburbs up to Greeley. During the drafting process, commissioners suggested creating a metro Denver seat with the Hispanic community in mind. With that, CO-8 is almost 40% Hispanic by population. Importantly, there’s a very good chance CO-8 will be the state’s most competitive seat in 2022: after backing Trump by almost 2% in 2016, Biden carried it 51%-46%. Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as the state’s current two Democratic senators, all carried the new 8th by about 2 points apiece last time they were up. Though candidate quality will matter, we would likely rate this new CO-8 a Toss-up to start, with the other districts all either Likely or Safe for their incumbent party.

Next, we’ll visit two states that pair together nicely: Maine and Nebraska. Because these small states allocate their electoral votes by congressional district, their lines will have outsized implications. In both, the redistricting process seems to be nearly complete.

Though the unicameral Nebraska legislature is nominally nonpartisan, Republican-aligned legislators can claim a majority of the chamber — though, importantly, not a filibuster-proof majority. Earlier this month, the parties released dueling plans: while the Democrats supported what would have amounted to a minimal change plan, Republicans sought to crack Douglas County (the state’s most populous county, which houses Omaha). Democrats balked, and ultimately filibustered the plan. The next week, a compromise plan that kept Douglas County intact passed by an overwhelming vote.

The plan will be sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) later this week, and seems likely to be enacted. Map 2 shows the (almost certain) new Nebraska plan, along with some partisan data from recent statewide elections.

Map 2: Likely 2022 Nebraska districts

NE-2 is preserved as a Trump-to-Biden district, although compared the current map, Biden’s margin in the new district is reduced slightly. The new NE-2 reaches west to grab Saunders County, a deep red rural county, and retains part of Sarpy County — likely not by happenstance, Rep. Don Bacon’s (R, NE-2) home is located just inside the latter. Though this district could very well continue to award its electoral vote to the Democratic nominee in presidential elections this decade, at the congressional level, Bacon tends to run ahead of the GOP’s baseline and is a deft campaigner. We’d be inclined to start his race off as Leans Republican for 2022.

Moving outside the Omaha area, the new NE-1 votes several points less Republican than Nebraska overall, but would still be, at best, a longer-term Democratic pickup opportunity. In 2020, Trump carried the current district 56%-41% — that spread is reduced to 54%-43%. Half of the new district comes from Lancaster County, which contains the state capital, Lincoln, while the balance comes from a handful of exurban and rural counties. This is a district where Democrats lose the tug-of-war: while Biden carried Lancaster County by almost 8 points (the best showing for a Democratic nominee since 1964), he lost the other half of the district by 30 points. With that in mind, we’d still rate Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R, NE-1) as a strong favorite for reelection — in fact, last year, he came close to carrying Lancaster County.

Finally, though he is entirely safe, we’d note that Republican Rep. Adrian Smith’s 3rd District will become even more geographically vast, adding counties along the Iowa border. The new 3rd would begin in and around Smith’s home of Scottsbluff, in far western Nebraska, and run east, stopping just a few miles short of downtown Omaha — this would make for a roughly 7-hour drive. As it is, NE-3 includes all or parts of 75 counties, which is more than any other district. The new NE-3 takes that up to 80.

In New England, while Democrats have a governing trifecta in Maine, redistricting is handled by a bipartisan commission, which submits plans to the legislature — maps must garner two-thirds support. Given that threshold, it seemed likely that there would not be large changes to the state’s two-seat congressional map. And that was basically the case.

Maine’s commission unanimously passed a plan that shifted around a few towns in Kennebec County (which was already the sole county split between the districts), although it may be notable the state capital of Augusta was moved into ME-2 from ME-1. The proposed plan will receive a vote in the legislature, perhaps as early as today, but it is expected to pass.

Under the likely plan, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D, ME-1) would retain a 60% Biden seat that centers on Portland. Up north, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden — like Bacon in NE-2 — is a crossover member who gets a slight boost: Trump’s margin in ME-2 would fall to just over 6 points, down from about 7 points in the current map. Though Golden held on 53%-47% last year, given the region’s Trumpian demographics, he was going to be a top Republican target regardless — in other words, if he loses, redistricting won’t be to blame. Golden is set to face a rematch with former Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R, ME-2) in a race we’d likely rate as a Toss-up.

Though we’ll have more to say when their plans are closer to completion, other states around the nation have been turning out map drafts at a brisk tempo. Here are some notable items:

Georgia: Republicans in the Georgia state Senate floated a plan that has some political observers scratching their heads. As expected, Reps. Lucy McBath (D, GA-6) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D, GA-7) saw substantive alterations to their seats, though the mappers took a seemingly odd approach.

The proposed GA-7 is almost entirely within Gwinnett County and would very likely stay blue. GA-6 retains parts of Fulton and Cobb counties, but takes in all of Forsyth County, a heavily GOP but quickly blue-trending county: Biden’s 33% share in Forsyth County was nearly double Barack Obama’s 18% from eight years earlier. With the Forsyth addition, the potential GA-6 would have favored Trump by a 52%-46% margin last year. Although Republicans not named Donald Trump have carried the seat by larger margins, given the broader trends in suburban Atlanta, the district may not be red-leaning for much longer — perhaps McBath would have a fighting chance there in 2022, though we would favor Republicans to flip the seat.

It’s not just Democrats who may complain about the Senate GOP draft: it does nothing to strengthen Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R, GA-11). Though GA-11 includes exurban Bartow and Cherokee counties, it soaks up even more of Cobb County, a Romney-to-Clinton county that Biden won by double-digits.

Outside of the Atlanta area, Rep. Sanford Bishop’s (D, GA-2) district is mostly unscathed, though it would no longer be a Black-majority seat. Interestingly, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R, GA-9) is drawn out of his district and would be in the open GA-10. Could Republicans be encouraging Clyde’s predecessor, former Rep. Doug Collins, who hails from Hall County, to stage a comeback? Collins polled well in northeastern Georgia in his 2020 Senate bid but ruled out a statewide run this cycle.

Idaho: Earlier this month, Idaho’s redistricting commission, which has authority in the state, released two draft plans: one is a status quo configuration, while the other puts Ada County (containing Boise, the state’s most populous county) entirely within one district. Idaho’s two-seat map, where eastern and western districts each take a part of Ada County, has changed little since the 1970s — from a cultural standpoint, this makes sense: eastern Idaho is heavily Mormon, while the west has a more libertarian character. In any case, Republicans will come out of the process strongly favored in both seats.

Iowa: Two weeks ago, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency submitted a plan for the state’s four districts. While Rep. Cindy Axne (D, IA-3) would retain a highly competitive seat anchored in the Des Moines area, a new Democratic-leaning seat, encompassing Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, would be created along the Illinois border. The latter would give Democrats a great opportunity to recover one of the state’s two eastern districts, as they lost both to Republicans in 2020. Although the LSA has drawn the state’s maps for decades, Republicans, who hold a legislative trifecta in Iowa, are not obligated to accept its plans — if they vote down two LSA drafts, the legislators can then modify the third and final proposal.

Texas: On Monday, Texas Republicans put out a plan that was less aggressive than some observers expected. Though it creates a new Democratic seat in Austin, it weakens Democrats’ hold on TX-15, a heavily Hispanic seat running from the Rio Grande Valley up to San Antonio. This may prompt Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D, TX-15) to consider running in the adjacent TX-34, a bluer seat that is open. In addition to protecting their current 23 districts, Republicans added a new Houston-area seat, likely with Wesley Hunt in mind — though he came up short as their 2020 nominee against Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D, TX-7), he lost by a respectable 3% margin. Hunt has already announced that he plans to run in the new district.

In the 2020 presidential election, 22 of the state’s current 36 districts voted less Republican than Texas as a whole, leaving the GOP somewhat overexposed. Under the proposed plan, only 14 of 38 seats would be to the left of the state. Though the final product will almost certainly differ from this draft, it seems Republicans have taken some of their close calls from last decade to heart.

As always, it’s important to remember that lawsuits can impact these maps — so even when states like Georgia and Texas get to “final,” the courts may end up intervening later.