David Freddoso: At stake: Control of Congress through 2022 

In the run-up to November, everybody is wondering whether Republicans can retake the House of Representatives this year. They should really be wondering whether the GOP can take back the Indiana House of Representatives and the New York state Senate.

U.S. House races will determine who controls Congress until 2012, but state-level races for legislature and governor this fall could determine who controls Congress through 2022. Next year, states will redraw their legislative and congressional district lines based on the results of the U.S. census. And in most states, the party in power gets to draw the map to its own advantage.

The last time this happened, in the 2000 election, Republicans fared poorly. After George W. Bush lost the national popular vote for president, the party was left with complete control of the redistricting process in states that accounted for only 98 House seats. Democrats had total control over creating 120 new districts. Of the remaining 217 districts, seven are in states with just one House seat; 173 were drawn under split-party power; and 37 were drawn by nonpartisan commissions under state law.

This year, it's generally agreed that Republicans will make gains. If they win a few key, competitive races, their control over redistricting could increase dramatically. And if Democrats lose a few key races, their control could diminish just as dramatically.

Republicans' narrow majority in the U.S. House between 2002 and 2006 was in part made possible by their total control over the 2001 round of redistricting in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Virginia is already out of the GOP grasp for this decade -- the gerrymander there will have to pass the Democrat-controlled state Senate that was elected in 2007.

Republicans have realistic chances of taking back the state Houses and governor's mansions in Michigan and Pennsylvania. They have a better-than-average shot at winning the races that will determine redistricting under Ohio law -- governor, auditor and secretary of state.

If they catch a strong wave, Republicans might also be able to control redistricting next year in a few states that had split or Democratic control in 2001. In Indiana, they would have to gain three seats to take the state House. In Wisconsin, they must gain four seats in the state House, two in the state Senate, and the open governorship. In Oklahoma and Tennessee, Republicans lead in the open races for governor. The GOP must play defense in Georgia (which Democrats controlled last time), South Carolina, and Texas to maintain single-party control.

In the doomsday scenario for Democrats, the GOP would create roughly 170 House districts on its own, with the exact number depending on the census results. That's no guarantee of anything, but it's a lot better than the situation Republicans confronted in 2001.

Republicans also want to deprive Democrats of total control over the process wherever they can. They will seek to do this in New York by winning back a majority in the state Senate. They have at least a small chance of winning governorships in Illinois, Alabama, Oregon, Colorado and Maryland. Then there's California, where Democrats can lose control in one of two ways: There's the open governor's race, and there's also a referendum on the ballot that would give the state's congressional redistricting power to a nonpartisan panel.

In Democrats' worst doomsday scenario -- if they were to lose all of these states -- they would have complete control over creating only 60 or 70 U.S. House seats next year.

The doomsday scenario is unlikely at either end, but you can see that Republicans have a rare opportunity in 2010. It's a good year to have a good year.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at dfreddoso@dcexaminer.com.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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