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Greg Speed

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How to Win the Redistricting Fight in 2010

Posted: 05/11/10 01:02 PM ET

In six months, voters may determine control of Congress for the next decade in elections for governors and legislatures that will control the redistricting process in most states.

Our opponents understand these high stakes and are highly-skilled practitioners in exploiting the redistricting process. Bush-era operatives including Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie recently reemerged with plans to take control of key state capitols. Rove clearly hopes to use redistricting in the states to resurrect his dashed dream of a permanent Republican majority.

Progressives must stop Rove and the Right's redistricting plans in 2010 and there is a clear path to victory in an otherwise tough year. We can win even in a rough tide with a plan for "strategic sandbagging," heavily targeting the states and districts most important to redistricting control. America Votes has created a Redistricting Control Project to execute coordinated plans in many of these key areas.

The importance of who controls redistricting cannot be overstated. After 2000, Republicans had full control of the process in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, and netted a 31-seat gain in Congress (+15 GOP, -16 Democrats) in those five states in the next election.

After 2010, congressional districts will be redrawn again by politicians in 35 states (the others have independent commissions or are single-district states). Democrats are now in control of states projected to have 108 congressional seats after the Census and Republicans control over 75 seats. Over 200 seats have split control, including big states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where Republicans pushed through gerrymanders in the last redistricting.

There are approximately 15 target states for redistricting control in the 2010 election based on two factors: competitive elections that could shift control of the state's redistricting process (a governor's seat or legislative chamber), and the likelihood that a change in partisan control of the process could flip control of congressional seats.

Ohio may be the most important redistricting battleground this year. The Buckeye state is projected to lose a seat and many of the remaining 17 districts could change hands as a result of redistricting. The Gubernatorial and Ohio House races are vital to Democrats' redistricting prospects, races for Auditor and Secretary of State are also key to Ohio legislative redistricting.

In 2008, Democrats won a 4-seat majority in the 99-seat Ohio House by a combined 2,739 votes in the closest races. The margin of victory may be that close again in 2010 so a plan for prioritizing battleground regions overlapping competitive Ohio House seats is essential.

Franklin County is an example of a perennial battleground and a redistricting "hotspot." The county will be vital for Gov. Ted Strickland's reelection, freshman U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy's reelection is considered a toss-up, and within her seat are also several competitive Ohio House districts. We need a strategy that targets voters in Franklin and other redistricting hotspots for maximum impact up and down the ballot.

For example, one of Democrats' best opportunities to pick up a GOP seat is House District 21 in Western Franklin. President Obama won HD-21 by a large margin in 2008, but a GOP incumbent managed to retain the seat because 6,639 voters failed to cast a ballot in his race. We can't afford to have our voters "roll off" again this year in such a hugely important race. Voters must be contacted early and often about multiple races to turn them out and ensure they complete their ballot for every key race - from HD-21 to CD-15 to Governor.

Winning redistricting means hand-to-hand combat like this in places like Franklin County, often targeting just a few thousand voters in the right districts. America Votes' Redistricting Control Project will lead this strategy by providing strategic planning, coordination, and smart targeting to win where it matters most.

Progressives must remember both the importance of this election for redistricting and the ugly history of our opponents. After 2000, Karl Rove and Tom DeLay demanded state Republicans ignore existing maps and push the most aggressive gerrymanders for Congress and state legislatures possible.

After the 1990 Census, the RNC's nefarious redistricting project openly advocated the packing of minority voters into the fewest districts possible and cracking communities by dividing minority voters into multiple districts to dilute their impact. If the plan itself wasn't cynical enough, GOP uber-lawyer Ben Ginsberg actually named the RNC project "Project RatF*ck" to drive home the point.

The other side sees redistricting as the best means to advance their right-wing agenda. With Congress controlled by a conservative majority we can expect 10 years of special interest policies; 10 years of repealing and "replacing" health care reform; 10 years of immigration policy that separates families, builds walls, and stops people to ask for their papers.

Redistricting isn't determined by a national election, but by small blocs of voters in key states and districts who this year hold enormous sway over the direction of the country for the next ten years. Progressives can win the redistricting battle this time with a smart plan in places like Franklin County, Bucks County (PA) and Washoe County (NV).