Last Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its population and reapportionment figures, which determine the number of representatives each state sends to the U.S. House as well as the number of presidential electors it sends to the Electoral College. The results—which show that the nation’s population continues to shift from the Northeast and the Rust Belt to the South and the West—are hardly surprising. From a political perspective, however, they represent another round of good news for Republicans, with five of the eight states set to gain seats in Congress having been won by John McCain in 2008, and eight of the ten states scheduled to lose seats having been won by President Obama.
Over the last decade, the South, Southwest and Mountain West all grew in population at a significantly faster pace than the Northeast and Midwest. As a result, Florida and Texas are the big winners in the U.S. House, gaining two seats and four seats, respectively. Gaining one seat apiece are Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will each lose a seat. New York and Ohio are the big losers, dropping two seats each.
It is probable that a number of current Democratic representatives will lose seats in those states with reduced delegations but there are also some newly elected freshman Republicans in the 112th Congress who may be threatened by the redistricting process. For instance, there is already some speculation that Jon Runyan, the incoming freshman Republican from New Jersey’s 3rd district, will find himself in a slightly bluer district and face a much tougher race in 2012 than he did this year. Meanwhile, in deeply Democratic Massachusetts, redistricting may free a tenured representative to challenge Sen. Scott Brown in 2012—for now speculation has focused on 9th district Rep. Stephen Lynch and 8th district Rep. Michael Capuano.
In Ohio, where Democratic representatives faced the strongest Republican wave in several generations this fall, Politico quotes former state GOP chairman Bob Bennett wondering if the state could reduce its Democratic U.S. House delegation, which will stand at five members in the 112th Congress, to just three, leaving only those Democrats in majority-minority districts safe. To DLCC communications director Carolyn Fiddler, such an outcome is entirely possible but more indicative of Republican designs than anything else. “That kind of a statement from a Republican chairman is telling,” she told C&E. “It is the Republican intention to subvert the will of the voters and divide communities to further their own partisan interests.”
In New York, the only other state set to lose two seats, the situation is murkier. With the largest population flight from upstate around Buffalo, a region represented by multi-term incumbent Reps. Louise Slaughter and Brian Higgins; there will be pressure on one or more representative to retire. Similarly, the new Republican congressional delegation from New York has reason to worry, as Democrats control the state Assembly and the governorship. Republicans do hold a slim majority in the state Senate, but Republicans there will most likely be more focused on keeping their own majority safe than on protecting Republicans in Congress.
Former Auburn Mayor Guy Cosentino, who writes a regular column on New York State Government for the Auburn Citizen, believes that both of the state’s lost seats will come format the expense of the upstate delegation. “There will be pressure from the new governor and Assembly Democrats to take both seats from upstate because the state’s slim population [growth] has occurred downstate,” he says.
As far as the Electoral College goes, Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende performed an interesting analysis of how the results of the last three presidential election results would have been altered using the elector numbers that will go into effect in 2012. Using them, President Obama’s 2008 victory looks slightly less lopsided, and President Bush’s two victories somewhat more comfortable—especially in 2004, when he would have won even without Ohio.
In short, the 2011 reapportionment numbers were an early Christmas gift to Republicans. And, while the new numbers by no means pose a serious hindrance to Obama’s re-election prospects in and of themselves, they do tilt the playing field against him ever so slightly and could end up making a difference if the 2012 election ends up being far closer than 2008.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com