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Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer

Posted: December 21, 2010 04:22 PM

The just-released census data shows ten states losing Congressional seats: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many of these are traditionally Democratic states, both in presidential elections -- where the number of electoral votes are determined by reapportionment -- and elections for members of the House.

On its face, this would look to be bad news for Democrats -- especially because the majority of the eight states that will gain seats in Congress are in the Sunbelt: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.

The problem with this logic is that Republicans have a growing problem with minorities -- and most of the population gain that led to the Congressional shift was among minorities -- and especially among Hispanics.

Before they pop the Champagne corks, Republican strategists need only remember one of the chief take-aways from the midterm elections: Latinos saved the Senate for Democrats. Latinos in Nevada, California, Colorado and Washington provided the winning margin for Democratic Senate candidates -- both on the strength of their heavily-Democratic performance and in increased turnout as a percentage of the electorate.

Of course Barack Obama's victory in 2008 rested heavily on solid support among African Americans and Latinos -- especially in states like California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia. But the Latino part of that equation is even more important today, since Republicans have been driven by their Tea Party base to oppose immigration reform and to infuriate Latinos with their proposals to repeal the 14th Amendment and Arizona's "papers please" law.

Republican defeat of the DREAM act last week only served to seal their fate with the Latino electorate. The DREAM act wasn't even really about immigration reform, it was about simple justice. Young people who were brought to this country by no fault of their own and who were raised as Americans are being denied the ability to serve in the armed forces, to complete a higher education -- to contribute to America -- and are threatened with deportation to countries they barely know. They are Americans in every way -- but without official documents. They are asking to be allowed to earn those documents -- their citizenship -- by serving in our armed forces or finishing at least two years of college. Yet Republicans filibustered the bill.

Well, you might say, it won't matter how much Latino population growth impacts redistricting in states like Texas, Florida and Arizona -- the Republican-controlled legislatures will draw the districts to benefit Republicans.

Not so fast. Democrats are not a protected class under the voting rights act. But Latinos and other minorities are. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund -- and the federal courts -- will assure that the power of the growing Latino electorate is not diluted. That means that we could very well see an increasing number of Latino-dominated democratic congressional seats in much of the Sunbelt.

In Florida, the voters approved a constitutional amendment in the midterm election requiring that the legislature create districts without reference to partisan considerations. That will have a powerful impact on both congressional and state legislative districts in 2012 -- much to the benefit of Democrats.

Many of the losses of population in the Midwest and East are in more rural areas of these states. As a consequence, many of the lost districts -- even where Republicans control redistricting -- may inevitably be Republicans. And in states where Democrats control redistricting, like Illinois and New York, they will certainly be. In Illinois, for instance, expect to see the districts of Republicans Shimkus, Schock, and Johnson combined into two downstate districts.

When it comes to congressional districts the net effect of the new census data will certainly be no better than a wash for Republicans -- and possibly a net plus for Democrats.

Nationwide, twelve seats will change hands. Here's an initial estimate of the net pluses and minuses.

Gains:

* Texas -- 2 new Republican districts, 2 new Democratic (Latino) districts

* Florida -- 1 new Republican district, 1 new Democratic (Latino) district

* Arizona -- 1 new Democratic (Latino) district

* Georgia -- 1 new Republican district

* Nevada -- 1 new marginal district

* South Carolina -- 1 new Republican district

* Utah -- 1 new Republican district

* Washington -- 1 new Democratic district

Losses:

* Illinois -- 1 fewer Republican district

* Iowa -- 1 fewer marginal district

* Louisiana -- 1 fewer Republican district

* Massachusetts -- 1 fewer Democratic district

* Michigan -- 1 fewer marginal district

* Missouri -- 1 fewer marginal district

* New Jersey -- 1 fewer marginal district

* Missouri -- 1 fewer marginal district

* Pennsylvania -- 1 fewer marginal district

* New York -- 2 fewer Republican districts

* Ohio -- 1 fewer Democratic district, 1 fewer Republican district

If that estimate proved to be correct, reapportionment will leave the electoral map with a net of three additional new solidly-Democratic districts, one additional new solidly-Republican district, and a net loss of four marginal seats.

Regardless of whether this estimate proves out through the redistricting process, the results of the census are certainly no slam dunk for Republicans in the House.

When it comes to the presidency the loss of electoral votes in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois -- and potentially Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- hurt President Obama's electoral vote count. These losses total negative six electoral votes in likely-Democratic states and the loss of four in potential-Democratic states.

Losses in Louisiana and Missouri will likely cost the Republican candidate two electoral votes. So the net losses from the Democrats due to losses is ten electoral votes.

Additions in Washington and Nevada will most likely benefit Obama's electoral vote math, bringing the net Democratic electoral vote loss to eight. That number could drop to six if Florida once again falls into the Democratic column in 2012.

All of this might affect the outcome of a very close presidential election, but it is not likely to be dispositive of the outcome.

And over the next decade, the effect of redistricting could shift even further in the Democratic direction. Even a state like Texas that is -- at the moment -- dominated entirely by the Republicans -- may soon experience a major Democratic resurgence. Thirty-seven percent of Texas residents are of Hispanic origin. Even now Texas is a majority-minority state. Yet both of Texas' Republican Senators voted against the DREAM Act. As U.S. News and World Report notes today:

"In part because of the Bush family's moderation on race and immigration, Democrats failed at assembling (and getting to the polls) the kind of multi-racial coalition there that has proven successful in other states. But unless Jeb runs for president, the Bush era is over, at least for a generation."

In sum, the Republicans have allowed the Tea Party hard core to trap them into an increasingly difficult political box canyon when it comes to Latinos and other minorities. The new census numbers are unlikely to help them escape.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.