WASHINGTON -- The 2012 elections are more than 15 months away, but the fight for control of Congress is under way in state capitols around the country.
State legislatures are beginning to finalize their redistricting plans, redrawing congressional maps to include newly added districts or to consolidate districts based on population figures from the 2010 Census. Those census statistics will determine whether a state gains, loses, or keeps its same number of seats in the House of Representatives.
It is still unclear whether the redistricting process will give an edge to House Republicans as they defend their 240-192 majority in the body, or whether it will benefit Democrats seeking to win back the 25 seats they would need to regain control.
The outcome of the battle to control the House will likely depend on notable swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
In the meantime, there are clear reversals of fortune coming for each party in states such as Illinois and North Carolina.
In North Carolina, Democrats currently enjoy a 7-6 partisan advantage over their Republican counterparts. However, the new district map, released last Friday, could potentially jeopardize the political futures of four incumbent Democratic House members. All four are poised to run in decidedly more Republican districts in 2012: Reps. Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell, Mike McIntyre and Brad Miller. Were Republican candidates to win those districts, the currently 7-6 Democratic House delegation would become a 10-3 Republican advantage, a large turnaround in a state that President Obama narrowly won in 2008.
The redrawn districts have prompted inevitable cries of partisanship from those being disadvantaged.
North Carolina's 13th congressional district, currently represented by Miller, is being obliterated. Republicans controlling the redistricting have taken away Miller's traditional base of Democratic-leaning Wake County and carved it up between the 1st, 4th, and 13th congressional districts, all currently held by Democrats. The new lines could force Miller into a primary with fellow Democrat David Price, currently of the 4th congressional district.
Miller directed his ire at the national GOP party bosses.
"This [map] does not even begin to reflect the actual partisan make up of North Carolina," Miller told The Huffington Post. "I'm sure they're getting instructions from Washington to grab as many seats as possible and not worry too much how they slice the state up to do it."
Southern states such as North Carolina have to abide by Voting Rights Act standards that can be challenged in court, and state lawmakers are careful to take the law into consideration when redrawing districts. North Carolina State Sen. Bob Rucho (R) and State Rep. David Lewis (R), co-chairmen of the state's redistricting committee, issued a joint statement defending their map.
But Miller said he was confident the map would be altered following a challenge in court: "There is no way those maps will survive that challenge."
In Illinois, it is the GOP that is unhappy with the district changes made in their state. Shortly after the Illinois map was passed into law, every Illinois House Republican signed off on a statement condemning Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn for "approving this highly partisan map that tears apart communities and disrespects the will of Illinois voters as expressed in last fall's election."
Illinois Republicans currently have an 11-8 advantage over the Democrats in the House delegation, but Illinois is losing a seat in redistricting. The new map could result in as high as a 13-5 Democratic favor, with freshman GOP members such as Adam Kinzinger and Bobby Schilling now facing Democratic-leaning districts.
The Democrat-drawn map also goes after longtime Republican representatives in the state, such as Rep. Tim Johnson of the 15th congressional district.
"A lot of voters been moved away from areas that are not going to be represented by people who they've been voting for for over a decade in some instances," said a spokesman for Johnson.
But even in states that use nonpartisan commissions to draw districts, such as California, the party on the losing end of the process is likely to be unhappy with the results.
"As bad as the process has been in the past, at least the politicians that were drawing the lines had to stand up and be accountable for them; at this point, the commissioners don't," said Elton Gallegly a five-term Republican congressman from California who could be facing a much harder reelection campaign in 2012.
California's citizen commission is striving to create competition in state races that saw only one House seat change parties in the last decade. Because its mandate requires the commission take only geography, ethnicity and economic interests into account when drawing district lines, Democrats will likely gain from the redistricting process -- the state boasts a rising Hispanic population, and 44 percent of California voters are registered Democrats.
An early analysis of California's new map predicts the 2012 elections could bring as many as five GOP losses in the state, which would turn a 34-19 Democratic House delegation into a 39-14 one.
Those unhappy with the results of redistricting have one final remedy: court challenges. Suits filed against the new district maps will likely be coming in the fall of this year.
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