The presidential election isn't until 2004, and the next congressional elections won't happen until next year, but the political landscape of the U.S. is literally being redrawn right now without a single vote being cast.
The first results of redistricting — the drawing up of new congressional districts street by street, block by block — are emerging now from legislative backgrounds, and will determine the nature of American politics for the next decade.
"This is an inside-politics kind of enterprise. Very few people understand it, very few people pay attention to it. But in terms of who controls Congress, it's huge," said T.J. Rooney, a state representative in Pennsylvania.
Redistricting comes every 10 years, after the Census, with new political districts drawn to reflect demographic changes and to give each electoral district roughly the same population.
In the end, Republicans say they'll gain eight to 12 seats from redistricting. Democrats want to neutralize that with small gains here and there in various states. They're counting on an anti-Bush backlash to take Congress back in 2002.
So far, with eight states done, the fight is a draw. Democrats and Republicans each appear likely to lose a seat in the Midwest and a new seat in Nevada is engineered as a toss-up.
The big battles, however, await in Texas and California. Strategists agree they could determine if either party picks up congressional seats from redistricting, and, potentially, control of the U.S. House.
In redistricting, state politics meet Washington head-on. Maps are drawn by state legislators in all but a handful of states.
In Pennsylvania, as in Michigan and Ohio, Republicans in control of state government are vowing to oust five Democratic members of the U.S. House, adding to the GOP's 12-seat margin in the House.
But redistricting is about more than your local representative. Besides Congress, it changes the political geography for state legislatures, county commissions, city councils and more.
The details might be eye-glazing, but for politicians, this is life or death. Already, there have been examples of how personal redistricting fights can get:
— In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Frank Keating proposed a remap that pits two fellow GOP congressmen against each other and leaves the state's lone Democrat mostly untouched. Who benefits? Candidate Cathy Keating — the governor's wife, running for an open seat. Keating's allies have denied the governor is trying to help his spouse.
— In Oregon, Democrats in the state House boycotted the capitol for five days in an effort to stop a GOP-backed redistricting plan. Upset Republicans hired people to deliver summons ordering them back. None of the lawmakers could be found.
— A city alderman in St. Louis refused to give up the floor in a filibuster, opposing a city redistricting map that she said would damage black representation. Denied a bathroom break, aides handed her a wastebasket and held a tablecloth around her; police cited her for urinating in public. "What I did behind that tablecloth is my business," Alderman Irene Smith said, successfully blocking the vote.
— In Massachusetts, an intra-party fight could see Boston-area districts sliced and diced, angering local mayors.
— New maps that threw together incumbents in Iowa and Indiana spurred congressmen in each state to leave their hometowns for more winnable districts.
— In New York, three members of Congress hired lobbyists to protect their seats.
Many maps will go to court and won't be settled until long past 2002. Forty-three states must redraw congressional lines; the rest have only one district. Eight states have final maps.
In Indiana, where slow population growth means the state will lose one district, the GOP is likely to lose a seat as two Republicans, Brian Kerns and Steve Buyer, were placed in the same district.
In Illinois, also losing a seat, Democrats are likely on the losing end, as Democratic Rep. David Phelps was redrawn into a Republican-leaning district with an incumbent, GOP Rep. Tim Johnson.
And in Nevada, which gained a House seat because of population growth, the new district is evenly split Democrats to Republicans.
The jackpot states will be decided this fall: Texas, where Republicans say they'll gain between four and eight seats; and California, where Democrats say they can gain up to three.
Last month in Michigan, the GOP-controlled legislature produced a map that would reverse the 9-7 Democratic control of the congressional delegation to 9-6 Republican. GOP Gov. John Engler is all but certain to approve.
That spurred 24-year Rep. David Bonior, thrown into a district with a fellow Democrat, to run for governor, acknowledging that "Republicans have made the decision to shut the door on my career in Congress."
Rep. John Dingell, the nation's longest-serving House member, saw another Democrat, Lynn Rivers, put into his district.
"We're confronting a vicious, hateful Republican partisan gerrymander," said Dingell, first elected in 1955. "The motivations of my Republican friends are ... steal as many votes as they can get, by any means, fair or foul."
The GOP contends the maps reflect a state that has become more Republican.
The same argument is heard in Texas, which gains two seats.
"If they're fair, they're going to give Republicans a majority," said Susan Weddington, state GOP chairwoman. Legislative gridlock, however, sent the maps to the courts.
California, too, is an unknown. GOP analysts say the delegation is too Democrat-heavy already — the Democrats hold a 32-20 edge. But Rep. Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat overseeing redistricting, thinks there's room for more representatives from his party.
Congressional redistricting sits high on both parties' agendas, said GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who is working with state leaders to help draft maps and craft legal challenges. He won't talk money.
Democrats promise to spend $13 million, Frost said.
"Both parties are deadly serious about this and both parties are working very hard," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.