After the 2010 midterm elections, one thing is certain: Ohio will be dripping red in 2011. Why, you ask? It looks like redistricting is going to be a bloodbath!
On election day, Republicans won thirteen of Ohio’s eighteen U.S. House seats (taking five from the Democrats), recaptured the governor’s mansion, and took total control of the General Assembly. While the 2010 election was pretty good to the GOP, the 2010 Census won’t be nearly as kind to Ohio. Preliminary results released by the Census Bureau indicate that Ohio is set to lose two of its House seats, and given the partisan nature of redistricting in Ohio, a lot of politicians are about to be put in awkward positions.
With Republicans in control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion, they are in a position to redraw the House districts without any input from the Democrats. Indeed, this will be only the “second time in the last 60 years that one party will control all three parts of the redistricting process” in Ohio, according to The Plain Dealer. Oddly enough, the first instance of one party control over redistricting was after the 2000 Census, and the GOP was running the show then too.
This time, however, the GOP has to deal with the fallout of winning perhaps too many seats. Despite the fact that the GOP state chairman has vowed to “advocate for a map that finds a way for Ohio’s 13 Republican members of Congress to have a district that is eminently winnable,” there will be a call for parity in the seat losses suffered by the parties. Moreover, it would be extremely unlikely that the GOP would attempt to break more than one of the remaining Democrat districts.
The remaining Democrat held districts are located around Akron, Cleveland and Youngstown, all traditional Democrat strongholds. Newsweek and the National Journal point out that this area has seen its population shrink and the GOP might be tempted to blunt the power of Cleveland’s Democrat voters by breaking up Marcia Fudge’s 11th District. Nevertheless, GOP leaders will probably shy away from breaking up such a prominent majority-minority district, if only out of fear of the inevitable court challenge. The most viable option remaining would be creating a new district that would force Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Betty Sutton to run against each other in a primary. In a somewhat less likely scenario, the GOP could widen the 11th district so that it encompasses Kucinich and Fudge’s homes, yet again forcing a primary between two incumbents. Contested primaries are often bloody enough as it is, but pitting two incumbents against one another will take the carnage to a completely different level.
On that note, if Ohio does lose two seats, the GOP might have to throw one of its own to the wolves as well. Some political scientists have stated that “inevitably [the GOP is] going to be putting two Republicans together.” To be specific, the GOP would likely combine the sparsely-populated districts won by freshmen Bill Johnson and Bob Gibbs. This, of course, will result another gory incumbent vs. incumbent primary.
Now why would the GOP intentionally place two of its own incumbents in the same situation reserved for its worst enemies? Because it is the best way for them to “consolidate their gains” within the framework of existing redistricting law. That is to say: it is the best way to engage in partisan redistricting without running headlong into a legal challenge. After all, what other point is there to partisan redistricting?
Douglas Haynes is a second-year student at William & Mary Law School.