The Only Winner So Far in Bruising Redistricting Battle: Incumbents

With 20 state redistricting plans final and the rest either caught up in court, state legislatures or both, it appears that neither party stands to gain enough of an advantage from the new congressional district boundaries to change the make-up of the Congress in the 2002 elections.

“This is going to be a break-even nationally, and then the election will be determined on the merits,” said Democratic Rep. Martin Frost from Texas, which will gain two new seats in heavily Republican areas. The current Democratic majority in the Texas delegation shouldn’t be affected, however.

Nationally, both parties are picking up seven seats each, according to the plans that have already been approved. But many more are up for grabs. Experts say that Republicans may come out on top in this race by the time it's all over, but only marginally.

The GOP in fact was confident that it would come out of the process a big winner all over the country, especially since it had won a High Court battle over how the census count would be taken.

The Democrats fought hard for statistical sampling of the population used to come up with the final census headcounts. Such a move would likely have added more minorities and city dwellers to the rolls — and they historically vote Democratic.

Republicans, who argued that statistical sampling would not truly reflect the state of the population, brought their case to court and won, on at least one level. The Supreme Court ruled that statistical sampling could not be used for congressional redistricting, but the ruling did not apply to redistricting for state legislatures and federal aid disbursements.

“I think Republicans had anticipated they would be doing better,” noted Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. “While they have done well here and there, as of now there’s nothing to prevent the Democrats from retaking Congress in 2002.”

Despite the “vicious bloodsport” behind the scenes to win this once-a-decade battle, he said, the real story is that the status quo was preserved in most states and incumbents in their respective parties are safer than ever. “They’ve made more races non-competitive,” he said, noting that there will be only 30 to 50 competitive races out of almost 400 at the midterms.

“The only way you can lose a seat that’s safe is by losing a primary,” he said. “That is the bigger story here.”

Mike Franc, a government policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, says this has helped reinforce extreme-left or -right party affiliation and partisanship in Washington D.C. “Incumbents get locked in for one party or another; there is a constant diminishment of moderates,” he said. “All of your members are on one end of the spectrum or the other.”

But redistricting is far from over and, in most cases, state’s political fates will be decided in a court of law. But it appears here that incumbents were the real winners of this much-anticipated match. “The idea was to come to some sort of compromise and that compromise was, ‘let’s just protect what we have,’” said Richie.

In more notable state redistricting news:

  New York will lose two seats and they could come from both Republican and Democratic strongholds when the lines are redrawn.

— California gets one new seat and it’s going to the Democrats — though they hoped for three new seats

Connecticut loses one seat. There is currently an impasse in court over which party will give it up. There is currently an even 3-3 balance between parties in Congress.

There are two new seats in Arizona, with one clearly going to the Democrats and the other up for grabs.

— Democrats seek to pick up six new seats in Georgia, while Republicans gain five news seats in Michigan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.