|Dear Readers: Please join us Thursday evening for a special University of Virginia Center for Politics event: “The Shock of January 6,” commemorating the first anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will moderate the event live from the UVA Rotunda’s Dome Room on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Scheduled speakers are: Rep. Liz Cheney (R, WY-AL); Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA); Jonathan Karl of ABC News; Jim Acosta of CNN; Center for Politics resident scholars Jamelle Bouie, Chris Krebs, and Tara Setmayer; author Mary Trump; Project Home Fire’s Larry Schack and Mick McWilliams; and Renew America Movement co-founder Miles Taylor. Plan to join us via livestream at https://livestream.com/tavco/theshockofjanuary6th.
— The Editors
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— There was a flurry of redistricting activity over the holidays, with 7 additional states finalizing their congressional maps.
— Republicans are up a little overall in the roughly 2/3rds of completed districts, while Democrats would have to sweep the Toss-ups — a very difficult task — just to achieve rough parity with what they currently hold in these states.
New ratings for finalized congressional maps
Congressional redistricting news came as hard and heavy over the holiday season as the snowstorm that blanketed Charlottesville and the broader region on Monday. Seven states completed redistricting, including the state with the nation’s largest congressional delegation, California.
We’ll go through what happened in each state below. But first, let’s take a look at the big picture. Table 1 shows our ratings for all of the states that have completed redistricting so far.
Table 1: Crystal Ball House ratings for states that have completed redistricting
As of Monday, Jan. 3, 33 of the 50 states have completed congressional redistricting (that includes the 6 states that only have a single district and thus do not have to draw a new congressional map). Those 33 states collectively hold 283 House seats, or close to 2/3rds (65%) of the nation’s 435 total.
In these states, Democrats currently control 149 seats while Republicans control 133. Based on our new ratings, 135 seats in these states are rated Safe, Likely, or Leans Republican, and that same number, 135, are rated Safe, Likely, or Leans Democratic. There are 13 Toss-ups. One way of looking at this is that, based on our ratings, Republicans are up 2 seats while Democrats are down 14, meaning that in these states, Democrats would have to essentially win all of the Toss-ups just to maintain a rough parity with what they held before, while the Republicans wouldn’t have to win any of the Toss-ups to be ahead of their current position. But Democrats’ weakened position has as much to do (or more) with the political environment as redistricting, and several of the current Democratic-held Toss-ups would have been rated as such under both the old and new congressional maps.
On the other hand, the increase in Republican seats rated as at least Leans Republican is dependent, to a significant degree, on Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina and Ohio — but both maps may eventually be modified in ways that take the edge off of those gerrymanders because of action in state courts (trials are ongoing in both states). Democratic gerrymanders have also created new offensive opportunities for the party in Illinois, Maryland, and New Mexico.
Let’s take a quick look at the 7 states that have finalized their maps since our last update: Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Virginia.
In something of a reversal from last decade, when Arizona’s redistricting commission made some choices that ended up benefitting Democrats — in 2012, Democrats won a majority of the House delegation while getting less than 44% of the popular vote — the bipartisan 5-member panel voted unanimously to approve a plan that was friendlier to Republicans.
With 9 districts overall, the new map features 5 seats that the president carried, which tracks well with his narrow statewide win. However, that tally includes two very marginal Trump-to-Biden districts. Given the national environment, we are starting both off as Leans Republican.
Rep. David Schweikert, who is running in the new AZ-1, may not be an especially strong incumbent, but Democrats will have to produce a quality challenger in that Scottsdale-based seat. Similarly, AZ-6 is an open Tucson metro seat that supported Biden by just 396 votes. The previous version of this seat, held by retiring Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D, AZ-2), backed Biden by a little more than 10 points.
Finally, and although Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D) announced plans to run again, the addition of Yavapai County (a large red county) into his district will be hard to overcome. The new AZ-2 gave Trump a 53%-45% vote, whereas the current version of the seat narrowly supported Biden.
Broadly, Republicans have a higher ceiling on the new map, as it would not be hard for them to sweep 6 of the 9 seats. They could even win a seventh, AZ-4, which is a more competitive version of the seat held by Rep. Greg Stanton (D, AZ-9). Democrats won the seat by a little over 10 points in the 2020 presidential and the 2018 and 2020 Senate races. We’re starting it as Likely Democratic. Democrats currently hold a 5-4 edge in the state, so this is a state where Republican gains appear very likely.
This is the second cycle that the state’s independent citizens redistricting commission has drawn the state’s lines. Last decade, the new map injected some competitive juice into a state that saw very little of it in the 2000s. However, an increase in competition ended up leading to an increase in Democratic seat share: Democrats started the decade with 34 seats but ended it with 42 — and that was after Republicans clawed back 4 seats in 2020 that they had lost in 2018. Regaining more ground will be a challenge for Republicans under the new map.
The new map features 45 Joe Biden-won seats compared to just 7 won by Donald Trump, identical to the previous map except for the elimination of a single safe Democratic seat (California lost a seat in reapportionment). We rate 35 Democratic seats as safe and an additional 3 in Likely Democratic. Reps. Josh Harder (running in CA-13), Katie Porter (CA-47), and Mike Levin (CA-49), 3 first-time winners in 2018, will be defending seats that Biden won by about 11 points apiece but which aren’t as blue down-ballot (we rate all 3 Leans Democratic). So that’s 41 seats at least leaning Democratic — just a single seat fewer than the number the party holds now. Meanwhile, there are only 5 Safe Republican seats, with an additional 3 rated Likely Republican: Reps. Tom McClintock (running in CA-3), Young Kim (CA-40), and Ken Calvert (CA-41). All 3 districts were decided by less than 2 points apiece for president in 2020 but are much more Republican down-ballot. McClintock and Calvert are in more competitive districts than before (although McClintock could end up running in the more Republican CA-5), while Kim is running in a better district for her (Biden’s margin in her current district was 10 points, but was only 2 in this one).
Finally, 3 of 2020’s narrow Republican winners, Reps. Mike Garcia (running in CA-27), Michelle Steel (CA-45), and David Valadao (CA-22) all saw Biden’s vote share go up a few points in their districts compared to 2020. Of these 3, Steel is best-positioned to move into the Leans Republican column, as the Biden margin in her district (6 points) is lower than in the other 2 (about a dozen points apiece). For Democrats to have any chance of holding the House, they’ll have to play offense in these seats. Meanwhile, the Republicans can credibly target Harder, Porter, and Levin.
The Georgia remap is in some ways old news, because the state’s Republican-controlled legislature finalized it before Thanksgiving. However, we didn’t consider it final until a few days ago, when Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) finally signed the new map into law — he likely waited to forestall the inevitable lawsuits from Democratic allies challenging the state legislative and federal maps, which in fact were filed immediately after he signed off on the maps.
As was widely expected, Republicans re-drew the congressional map to claw back 1 of the 2 seats they lost to Democrats over the past couple of cycles in the metro Atlanta area, which has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. They took GA-6 and GA-7, a pair of Trump 2016/Biden 2020 districts, and made GA-7 into a heavily Democratic seat (Biden +26) while remaking GA-6 into a heavily Republican seat (Trump +15). That created a primary between Democratic incumbents Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux.
The intent of this map is to elect 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats, which it likely will do in 2022. In a bad Democratic environment, Republicans might also be able to push Rep. Sanford Bishop (D) in southwest Georgia’s GA-2 (Biden won the district by 10). We’re rating that district as Likely Democratic to start. It will be interesting to see if this map holds up for Republicans throughout the decade given trends in the Atlanta area, but that is a story for future cycles, not 2022.
Out of three “finalist” maps, Michigan’s inaugural redistricting commission chose a plan that emphasized partisan fairness: in 2020, both President Biden and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) would have carried 7 of its 13 districts. Moreover, the state will undoubtedly see its share of competitive congressional races this decade, as either party could win 9 districts in a favorable enough year.
First-term Republican Rep. Peter Meijer should have a tough reelection: his Grand Rapids-area seat supported Biden by almost 9 points, though Peters only carried it by 2 points. Still, given this area’s GOP heritage and Meijer’s family name, we are reluctant to start him off as an underdog. However, he could also lose a primary — Meijer was one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment last year — which likely would give the Democrats a better chance to win this seat.
On the Democratic side, Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Dan Kildee were each strong performers in recent cycles, both are in Toss-up districts. Slotkin’s district is actually reconfigured into a Biden-won seat, but in presidential contests, the Republican share has consistently been at 48-49%. Kildee keeps a mostly familiar seat, though he gains much of red-leaning Midland County.
Meanwhile, Republicans start as small favorites to win the new MI-10, which split its ticket for Trump and Peters. Some Republicans appear to want John James, the party’s Senate nominee in 2018 and 2020, to run in this suburban Detroit seat.
Overall, Michigan’s commission has created a highly-competitive map that could easily break one way or the other throughout the decade depending on the political environment and the candidates.
New Jersey’s bipartisan commission settled on a plan in a manner consistent with the state’s reputation of transactional, and often heavy-handed, politicking: with zero public comment, the tiebreaker on the panel supported a Democratic plan, with the reasoning that the GOP got a favorable map last decade.
Ironically, last decade’s Republican-sponsored map resulted in a 11-1 Democratic delegation after the 2018 elections — though that lopsided split wasn’t sustainable in 2020, as the Democrats fell back to 10 seats following Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s switch from Democrat to Republican.
Compared to the outgoing map, Democratic mappers aimed for a higher floor and a lower ceiling: in most circumstances, they should be relatively secure in 9 seats, but Republicans would have 2 solid seats.
The final seat, NJ-7, is currently in Democratic hands but is an attractive GOP target. Since his 2020 reelection, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D, NJ-7) has been hampered by complaints of improper stock disclosures. If he decides to run again, he’d likely face a rematch with state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R), although there are other Republicans running in the primary.
Biden’s margin in NJ-7 falls from 10 points to 4. Perhaps more telling is that in last year’s gubernatorial race, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) lost the district by nearly 13 points (Map 1). We think that justifies starting Republicans out as favorites, especially since Kean came very close to beating Malinowski in 2020 in a more Democratic district.
Map 1: 2020 and 2021 in new NJ-7
Elsewhere, Murphy — who was reelected with just 51% — would have still carried the 9 other Biden-won seats. We rate them all as at least Likely Democratic.
Democrats gerrymandered the Land of Enchantment with an eye on restoring the 3-0 edge the party won for single cycles in 2008 and 2018. They re-drew the southern New Mexico-oriented NM-2, held by first-term Rep. Yvette Herrell (R), and transformed it from a seat that Trump won by a dozen points to one that Biden won by 6. In doing so, they reduced Democratic strength in the state’s 2 other districts, Democratic-held NM-1 and NM-3, so that Biden only won each by 14 and 11 points, respectively. NM-3 is a more consistently Democratic seat down-ballot than NM-1, which under previous maps used to be more of a swing district but has moved more toward Democrats in recent years. Democrats will have chances to win NM-2 either this year or in years to come, but there is an outside chance a Republican mega-wave could endanger their current seats.
Following the failure of the state’s new lawmaker/citizen redistricting commission to produce maps, the Supreme Court of Virginia commissioned 2 special masters to draw new maps. The congressional draft came out in early December and, following a period of public comment, the court signed off on a modified, final plan last week.
Democrats hold a 7-4 edge in Virginia’s House delegation currently, but 2 of those Democrats hold marginal seats: Reps. Elaine Luria (D, VA-2) in Hampton Roads and Abigail Spanberger (D, VA-7) in greater Richmond. The other 9 seats are relatively safe, with Democrats holding 5 of those seats and Republicans 4. The new map essentially continues this arrangement, albeit in a different form.
Luria’s district gets a little worse for her, moving from Biden +5 to Biden +2. She is a prime Republican target in what has been a swingy region over the years. Meanwhile, Spanberger’s district gets more Democratic, moving from Biden +1 to Biden +7. However, the district is re-oriented away from her home in the Richmond suburbs and into Northern Virginia. That said, she has a better claim to this reconfigured district than she did to the VA-7 drawn in the special masters’ previous map, which was both more Democratic and more of a Northern Virginia seat. In any case, VA-2 starts as a Toss-up and VA-7 starts as Leans Democratic, but it could very well end up as a Toss-up.
Of the 9 other seats, Republican-held VA-1 and VA-5 could be competitive in certain cycles, but they start as Safe Republican in the context of 2022. Meanwhile, Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D, VA-10) was a winner in the final map, as her district would have been markedly more competitive though still Democratic-leaning on the previous draft. Her district starts as Safe Democratic now, although it was close in the recent Virginia gubernatorial race, so it could end up on the competitive board in the event of a really bad Democratic environment. Map 2 shows the 2020 presidential and 2021 gubernatorial results on the new map.
Map 2: 2020 and 2021 on new Virginia map
There are lots of signs that 2022 could be a good year for Republicans in the House. Midterms often break against the White House party, particularly when the president is unpopular, as Joe Biden is (his approval rating remains mired in the low-to-mid 40s, with disapproval a bit over 50%). Republicans just enjoyed a strong election cycle in New Jersey and Virginia in November, elections that sometimes can be a precursor to midterm success for the non-presidential party. Democratic House members are also retiring at a substantially greater rate than Republican ones, in some instances giving Republicans a better opportunity to win their seats or in other instances suggesting pessimism from veteran members who may not want to serve in a future House minority even as their own seats are secure.
We noted above that there are currently 13 Toss-ups in the states that have completed redistricting. If in fact 2022 is a GOP wave year, the past 3 cycles that the House changed hands (2006, 2010, and 2018) gives us some indication as to how we might expect those Toss-ups to fall.
In the 2006 cycle, the Crystal Ball had 11 House Toss-ups in early 2006. Democrats won 9 of those 11 on their way to flipping the House majority.
In the 2010 cycle, we had 19 House Toss-ups early in 2010. Republicans won 17 of those 19 en route to winning the House.
And in the 2018 cycle, we had 19 Toss-ups early in the year. Democrats won 15 of those 19 as they flipped the House.
Republicans need to win just 5 more seats than the 213 they won in 2020 in order to flip the House. Our ledger already has them up slightly in the states that are done with redistricting, and that’s not even including any of the Toss-ups, the bulk of which they should be able to win if the political environment remains as it is today. So Republicans remain strongly favored in the House even as the district lines are still under construction in a substantial number of states.