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Notes on the State of Politics: March 13, 2024


Dear Readers: Last night, Joe Biden and Donald Trump officially became the presumptive nominees of their respective parties, setting up a general election that (to us) basically started months ago.

In this week’s edition of Notes on the State of Politics, we’re looking down the ballot—both at the overall House map now that redistricting is likely done, and at some important primaries coming up in the Midwest next week, highlighted by the Republican Senate primary in Ohio.

— The Editors

Assessing 2024 congressional redistricting

It’s easy to think of congressional redistricting as a once-in-a-decade event, but it really isn’t. Over the past six decades, at least one map has changed from one two-year cycle to the next a little more than 75% of the time (24 of 31 two-year congressional election cycles). That tally includes 2024, as five states changed their maps for a variety of reasons. Let’s quickly summarize what happened (click on state names to see our more detailed analysis of each state remap):

Alabama: Somewhat surprisingly, the U.S. Supreme Court in last year’s Allen v. Milligan decision upheld Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which can prompt the creation of majority-minority districts in places that can accommodate them based on certain criteria. A court-imposed map created a second Black majority seat in the state, which should cut the state’s 6-1 Republican delegation to 5-2.

Louisiana: Allen v. Milligan effectively opened the door to a new map in Louisiana, too, and eventually the state legislature created what amounts to a heavily Democratic district, which should have the effect of reducing the GOP edge from 5-1 to 4-2.

Georgia: Another case in the style of Alabama and Louisiana was decided in Georgia, but the Republican-controlled state legislature simply rearranged districts in the Atlanta area to create an additional Black majority district that won’t otherwise upset the partisan makeup of the state’s congressional delegation, currently 9-5 Republican.

North Carolina: The state’s then-Democratic state Supreme Court imposed a map that resulted in a 7-7 tie in the delegation in 2022. Republicans took control of the state Supreme Court, which then re-opened the door to the GOP-controlled legislature re-imposing a partisan gerrymander. Republicans converted two Safe Democratic seats and one very competitive seat won by a Democrat in 2022 into three Safe Republican seats, and they also changed a northeast North Carolina district held by first-term Rep. Don Davis (D, NC-1) from one that Joe Biden carried by 7.3 points to just Biden +1.7.

New York: After the state’s highest court imposed a map to replace an aggressive Democratic gerrymander in 2022, state Democrats got a more liberal version of the same court to re-open the state’s convoluted redistricting process. The end result was a mildly better map for Democrats, with potentially the most impactful change coming in Rep. Brandon Williams’s (R) Syracuse-based NY-22, which went from Biden +7.5 to Biden +11.4.

So, who won? Probably Republicans, but only modestly.

This is because the pro-Democratic changes in Alabama, Louisiana, and New York do not, together, offset the pro-Republican changes in North Carolina.

On the overall House map in place for 2022, Joe Biden won 226 House districts while Donald Trump won 209, and the median district based on presidential performance was MI-8, a Flint-based district held by retiring Rep. Dan Kildee (D) that voted for Biden by 2 points. Under the new national map following the changes in the five states mentioned above, Biden won 224 districts and Trump won 211, and the median seat is now a tie between Reps. Young Kim (R, CA-40) in Southern California and Jen Kiggans (R, VA-2) in Hampton Roads (Biden won both of those districts by 1.9 points). So the median seat is still roughly 2.5 points to the right of the nation (Biden won nationally by about 4.5 points), but we are not talking about Earth-shattering overall changes here. The House map remains a bit biased to Republicans but it’s a map that either side can win a majority on, particularly because the current Republican majority is so small (as was the Democratic majority after the 2020 elections). (We used Daily Kos Elections for these district-level presidential numbers, with the exception of the new districts in New York, which are from a Dave’s Redistricting App map made by Benjamin Rosenblatt.)

In terms of the total number of seats won by either Biden or Trump, the Alabama/Louisiana remaps flipped two Trump seats into two Biden seats, while the North Carolina remap flipped three Biden seats into three Trump seats. Additionally, the New York remap pushed the Biden +0.2 NY-1 held by Rep. Nick LaLota (R) on the eastern end of Long Island into a Trump +1.8 district, so despite the fact that the New York map is, on the whole, better for Democrats, the state now has 20 Biden-won districts instead of 21. So that’s why the total number of Biden seats nationally is down from 226 to 224.

The full impact of the 2024 redistricting on the actual makeup of the House won’t be known until November. Remember some of the changes described above—if Davis in NC-1, for instance, loses by a point or two, the reduced Democratic strength in his district would likely have been the difference between victory and defeat (that applies to Williams in NY-22 as well, and perhaps a few others). But if both Davis and Williams win anyway, it stands to reason that they also would have won on the old, more favorable versions of their districts.

This is probably it for 2024 redistricting. A couple of weeks ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court closed the door on changing the congressional map there for 2024, which is effectively an updated version of the Republicans’ 2010s-era gerrymander. There is a variety of pending legal action in several other states—in places such as Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah—but we do not expect any of these cases to impact the 2024 map.

Because of the way that Louisiana Republicans opted to redraw its map—a not-very-compact racial gerrymander that snakes from Baton Rouge all the way to Shreveport—it’s possible that a court could unwind that map in time for a new one to be created in Louisiana for 2024, as the state’s “primary” election (a top-two, all-candidate jungle primary in which there is a December runoff if no one gets over 50%) coincides with the November general election. Indeed, Rep. Garret Graves (R, LA-6) is a heavy underdog in his now-Biden +20 district as it is now drawn, but he continues to be a candidate, apparently with the hope that he’ll get some help from the courts. A similar district was thrown out as an egregious racial gerrymander back in the 1990s—so this merits watching. Beyond that, and given that conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who was the decisive vote on Allen v. Milliganseemed to leave the door open to a future challenge to the VRA’s Section Two, it’s also possible that the new Democratic seats that Milligan allowed to be created could be unwound later this decade.

We flag all of this just to note the possibility, though not the certainty, that there could be more mid-decade redistricting action in the 2026 cycle or later. If that did happen, it would be in keeping with the history that suggests such changes are common even outside of “normal” redistricting years.

Next week’s down-ballot primaries: Ohio and Illinois

Next week, Ohio Republicans will settle on their nominee against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in one of this cycle’s key Toss-up races. The three GOP options are state Sen. Matt Dolan, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and businessman Bernie Moreno. In 2022, the state saw a more crowded open-seat primary where now-Sen. J. D. Vance (R) emerged with a 32% plurality, due in part to a Trump endorsement. Dolan, despite seeming to catch some late momentum in the polls, finished slightly behind former state Treasurer Josh Mandel in that primary to take third place (Mandel was Brown’s opponent in 2012).

Shortly after the 2022 cycle concluded, Dolan announced he’d run again. But, as with the contest two years ago, he does not have Trump’s backing: in December, Trump, perhaps taking a cue from Vance, endorsed Moreno. Dolan, though, got a notable endorsement of his own this week: Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who stayed neutral in the 2022 primary, endorsed him. DeWine’s late move came as something of a surprise, but as reporter Andrew Tobias speculates, it seems likely that the governor would not have weighed in unless he was confident Dolan could actually spring what we would classify as an upset over Moreno. Though LaRose is the sole statewide official in the race and we cannot necessarily count him out, he has not been able to self-finance as his opponents have done—LaRose winning would be a significantly bigger surprise than either Moreno or Dolan winning, at this point. As we discussed last year, LaRose’s image may have taken something of a hit as he spearheaded ballot measures that voters repudiated him on, although his rivals’ money edge down the stretch is of course a significant factor. A couple of recent nonpartisan public polls show the primary as close between Dolan and Moreno, with LaRose in third.

Unlike the 2022 primary, which featured some degree of geographic diversity, all three Republican contenders in next week’s primary are from Northeast Ohio. While Vance very likely could thank Trump for his strong showing in the eastern and southern parts of the state, he also carried all the counties orbiting his current home of Cincinnati—an area that will be up for grabs this time. In 2022, Dolan carried Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus), and Geauga (Cleveland’s suburbs)—his goal will be to expand his support beyond the state’s higher-income areas. Former Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati Republican, also recently endorsed Dolan, who if elected would likely be more in the style of Portman and DeWine (pre-Trump Republicans) than Vance (a post-Trump populist Republican). Trump is campaigning for Moreno in Dayton on Saturday, another sign of the importance of southwest Ohio in this primary.

We are planning to keep our Toss-up rating for the general election as-is regardless of the primary’s outcome.

Looking further down the ballot, Republicans have competitive primaries in a pair of open seats. OH-2, which runs along the Ohio River and bumps up against the Cincinnati and Columbus metro areas, is the reddest district in the state and is seeing an 11-way primary to replace Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R). Meanwhile, OH-6, a (narrowly) Obama-to-(heavily) Trump seat in the eastern part of the state, is vacant. Now-former Rep. Bill Johnson (R) resigned in January to lead Youngstown State University. While the primaries for the regular and special elections will both be held next week, the special general election will be on June 11. Republican state legislators Mike Rulli and Reggie Stoltzfus are the leading candidates and have fundraised competitively. Either would be easy favorites to hold the seat. In the Akron-Canton area, Rep. Emilia Sykes (D, OH-13) is seeking a second term in one of the nation’s most competitive districts, a Biden +3 Toss-up district. The top contenders for the Republican nomination to face her are former state legislator Kevin Coughlin, a longtime fixture in the area’s political scene, and Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg.

In the Toledo area, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9) is the longest-serving woman in congressional history—she is also the sole crossover member of the state’s delegation. In 2022, as her safely blue seat was reconfigured into a marginal Trump-won seat, Republicans, to say the least, royally whiffed against her. Against J. R. Majewski, a strident pro-Trump Republican who lost support from the national party when it was revealed that he misrepresented his military service, Kaptur won her 21st term by 13 points. Majewski launched another run, and seemed to have a shot at winning the nomination, until dropping out earlier this month. Though Majewski’s name will still appear on the ballot, he threw his support to state Rep. Derek Merrin, who was in line to be speaker of the Ohio House heading into 2023 but got outflanked by now-Speaker Jason Stephens (R). State Rep. Craig Riedel, who finished second to Majewski in the 2022 primary, is also running again and has raised the most on the GOP side. But in December, audio surfaced of Riedel denouncing Trump—Riedel’s comments prompted Republicans at both the state (Moreno) and national (House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik) to pull their endorsements of his campaign.

So while Majewski was an especially poor candidate—Kaptur would have beaten him even if the city of Toledo had not cast a single vote—we will likely keep OH-9 as Leans Democratic, at least in the short term, in a nod both to Kaptur’s long standing and to an eventual GOP nominee who will still have something to prove after the primary. The 9th and 13th districts in Ohio are both very important defensive assignments for Democrats as they seek to flip the House majority.

Illinois is also holding down-ballot primaries in conjunction with its presidential contests next week, although it lacks a senatorial or gubernatorial race. Still, we are watching several House primaries there, the two highest-profile of which are in districts that could hardly be more different.

IL-12 is the successor to the southern Illinois “Little Egypt” seat that the late Sen. Paul Simon (D) held while he was in the House—but unlike the days when Simon held it, it is now the reddest district in the state. In 2022, Rep. Mike Bost (R), who previously represented the western part of the new district, transitioned into the redrawn district without primary opposition and won the general 3-to-1. But the eastern part of the district, at the time, was represented in the state Senate by Republican Darren Bailey, who gave up his seat to run unsuccessfully against Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D) in 2022. Bailey, out of office this cycle, announced he’d challenge Bost. Though Bailey has tried to paint Bost as too establishment—first elected in 2014, he has been in Congress long enough to chair the Veterans Affairs Committee—we wonder how well that label will stick against an incumbent known for his sometimes fiery antics. In any case, Bost got a recent boost with a Trump endorsement, although a poll taken earlier this month only put him ahead 45%-39%.

The state’s most Democratic district is IL-7, held by long-serving Rep. Danny Davis (D). Though the district is plurality-Black by composition, it takes in some wealthy white-majority areas (most notably around Chicago’s Loop), and it has a sampling of heavily Hispanic precincts. Despite, or perhaps because of, his seniority (he is 82), Davis has seen his share fall in recent primaries. In 2020, he was renominated with 60% and 52% in 2022—in both cases, he won because of his support in the majority Black precincts. Kina Collins, who took 46% against Davis in 2022, is running again, although in this more crowded field, Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin has led in fundraising and would seem better positioned to beat the incumbent, although she also has faced some ethics questions. Illinois, like Ohio, does not have runoffs.

Aside from those two safe districts, we are watching two primaries in a pair of lighter blue Democratic-held seats. In IL-17, long a Quad Cities-based seat that Democrats shored up in redistricting, former Circuit Court judge Joe McGraw is the choice of national Republicans against first-term Rep. Eric Sorensen (D). McGraw faces fellow Republican Scott Crowl. In IL-11, which takes in some outer Chicagoland suburbs, we are expecting Rep. Bill Foster (D) to secure renomination, although he has a primary challenger in Qasim Rashid, who is running as more of a strident progressive. Rashid could be accused of carpetbagging into the district—he was the Democratic nominee for a Virginia U.S. House district in 2020—although he does have some roots in Chicagoland.