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Could Democrats Gerrymander Their Way to Smaller Midterm Losses?

Joe Biden. Image Credit: White House.
Image Credit: White House.

Republicans obviously have much to be hopeful about in November. History tells us the president’s party always loses seats, and Democrats have only about a dozen seat majority in the House. Also, it’s still early, but President Joe Biden’s polling is horrendous. He has 33% approval in a Quinnipiac University poll and – a little better – 38% in a CNBC poll.

But a red wave, similar to 1994 and 2010, is far from certain.

That’s because Democrats appear to have won the gerrymandering battle, drawing up at least a few more favorable districts than Republicans. Let’s be clear, a Republican House majority is still very likely. But despite all of Biden’s problems, the Democrat maps might prevent a big majority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in 2019, called gerrymandering—the practice of drawing up congressional and legislative districts to favor one party over another, “unjust and deeply dangerous.” House Democrats even tried to pass a massive federal election takeover bill that included a ban on gerrymandering.

This generally depends on whose political ox is being gored. From the New Deal through the 1990s, Democrats used gerrymandering to their advantage, to the chagrin of the GOP. Only in the 2000s when Republicans controlled more state legislatures did Democrats bemoan it as a moral afront. This year blue state Democrat-controlled legislatures haven’t paid so much attention to Pelosi’s sermonizing and gleefully took part in the supposedly “unjust and deeply dangerous” activities of drawing blue congressional and legislative maps.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently crowed that his party has a big redistricting advantage going into the midterms. “We’ve seen them [Republicans] try to defend some incumbents who were at risk of losing their seats in suburban areas that are moving away from them, and that’s cost them on the overall map,” Maloney told The Hill.

Though redistricting isn’t finished yet, Democrat state legislatures got rid of a net 12 Republican districts and created a net 11 Democratic districts, according to a March analysis by Vox. The GOP-controlled state legislatures produced a slim number of new seats, and focused on protecting incumbents, while Democrats scored on the new blue districts.

In Maloney’s home state, the Albany Democrats erased four GOP districts and established three Democratic districts. This one is still being litigated. Illinois Democratic lawmakers also ditched four Republican districts and added three Democratic districts, according to Vox. Both states lost a district in the 2020 Census.

Oregon is a blue state that gained a seat in Congress, and Democrats carved the heavily left-leaning city of Portland into three congressional districts, going from a formerly 3-2 blue to red advantage districts in the state to a 5-1 blue advantage. In Nevada, three of the four congressional districts used to lean Republican, now three lean Democrat. And in New Mexico, the Democratic legislature knocked out what was once a GOP-leaning district, to potentially have all three House members from the state.

It should be noted that Republicans were creative in drawing maps for some big states such as Texas, Ohio, and Florida. But like the New York map, these are going through the litigation motions.

A large or small House majority could make a big difference for Republicans and potential Speaker Kevin McCarthy. A slim majority would subject McCarthy to broker deals with varying factions of the party, whereas a bigger majority might allow him to seal a stronger coalition.

There is also the separate problem that in 1994, Republicans had a charismatic leader to rally around in Newt Gingrich and a “Contract with America” filled with popular legislative proposals. In 2010, Republicans ascended in the Tea Party movement. Perhaps we’ll see something akin to either of those as the election draws closer.

Gerrymandering is a little unseemly. But it’s too easy to scapegoat it for the many clowns in the House of Representatives today. States that entrust the redistricting process to independent commissions – such as California – still send plenty of clowns. Also, in some states, these commissions get lobbied. So there is just no way to remove politics from politics.

One thing is certain. If Democrats do get shellacked again, this November they won’t be able to blame gerrymandering anymore.

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”

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Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."