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Analysis: Redistricting could bring competition

Analysis: Redistricting could bring competition

April 4th, 2011 by DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press in News

Several of Missouri's congressional districts may become more competitive among Republicans and Democrats in the 2012 elections, if the first drafts of Missouri's proposed redistricting maps are any indication.

Republicans in control of a state House committee on redistricting released a proposed map this past week that reconfigures Missouri's nine existing U.S. House districts into eight based on the results of the 2010 Census. The consolidation is necessary because Missouri's population grew more slowly than the nation's. Population shifts within the state further exacerbated the need for different boundaries.

The House committee is scheduled to vote on its plan Tuesday. A separate Senate committee is to release its proposed redistricting map Monday.

The most obvious change in the new plans is that Democratic Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan would live in the same St. Louis congressional district. Clay's 1st District would grow and Carnahan's old 3rd District would be absorbed into as many as four other districts. Clay and Carnahan aren't too pleased by the proposal. But whoever wins the new 1st District could represent an even more solidly Democratic district than before.

Several other incumbents, however, could find themselves representing voters who are slightly less inclined to support them.

Political analysts often rely on the results of past elections to determine whether voters in a particular area tend to favor Democrats or Republicans. The state Office of Administration has provided the House and Senate redistricting committees with the demographic data capable of making those determinations.

Using mapping software, for example, it's possible to overlap 2010 census figures with the results from the 2008 and 2010 elections for state and federal legislative races, statewide executive offices and president. That's how it's possible to predict that the newly proposed 1st District, which encompasses St. Louis city and parts of St. Louis County, will be just as reliably Democratic - if not more so - than the current 1st District.

The analysis starts to become more interesting when applied to some of the other proposed districts.

The 2nd District in suburban St. Louis, for example, currently is held by Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who has been thinking about a potential bid for the U.S. Senate. Akin's House district has been reliably Republican. And Akin's spokesman has indicated the congressman is focused first on redistricting before the Senate.

The analytical tools available to state lawmakers rate Akin's current district as having 56 percent Republican preference in 2008 and a 67 percent Republican preference in 2010. Under the map proposed by the Republican-led state House committee, the newly redrawn 2nd District would have had a 53 percent Republican preference in 2008 and a 63 percent GOP preference last year. Looking at both years provides a valuable comparison, because 2008 was a good year nationally for Democrats and 2010 was a good year for Republicans.

What the analysis reveals is that Akin's newly proposed district may be a little less Republican-friendly but still would be fertile ground for Republicans.

Another factor to consider is the extent to which Akin would be representing different people than he currently does. Each of Missouri's eight newly redrawn districts must come as close as possible to having 748,616 residents. Of those, about 277,000 - or about 37 percent of the total - would be new to the 2nd District under the proposal by the Republican-led state House Redistricting Committee.

Does that make it more challenging for Akin to seek re-election to the U.S. House? Does it make it so challenging that he would just as soon launch a statewide campaign for the U.S. Senate?

"He's been around long enough and the media markets probably overlap sufficiently that people wouldn't be completely caught off guard by his name," if Akin were to seek re-election to a redrawn 2nd District, said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "I think he's probably going to decide it's safer to stay in the House."

Other incumbents could face even greater changes in the geographic size and partisan voter preferences of their districts.

Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, who currently represents the 9th District sprawling from the Lake of the Ozarks through Columbia to the northeast corner of the state, would be placed in the newly redrawn 3rd District under the plan by the Republican-led state House committee. That new district would lose Columbia and northeast Missouri and gain Jefferson City and more of suburban St. Louis.

Luetkemeyer would inherit 444,000 new residents, meaning over half of his constituents would be new.

Political scientists say the proposed boundary changes also could have implications for Republican Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Jo Ann Emerson. Hartzler's 4th District in west-central Missouri is likely to gain more Democrats with the addition of Columbia's home county. Likewise, Emerson's 8th District in southeast Missouri is likely to pick up more Democrats because of its proposed reach into Jefferson County just south of St. Louis.

But both districts would retain a Republican voting preference, according to an analysis that applies the newly proposed boundaries to the 2008 and 2010 elections.

For Hartzler, the proposal "makes the district more Democratic, but not so Democratic that it would tip the balance by itself," said George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University in Springfield.

For Emerson, the proposal likewise "makes it perhaps more Democratic, but not so much that it would offset that entire swath of the south part of the state that is going to vote Republican no matter what," Connor said.

Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Scott Rupp said the proposed congressional map that he will unveil Monday will bear some resemblance to the map proposed by his Republican counterparts in the state House, but it also will have some differences, particularly in suburban areas.

One key thing is likely to be the same between the two proposals.

"I'd say the map makes more districts more competitive," said Rupp, R-Wentzville.

EDITOR'S NOTE - David A. Lieb has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 1995.