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Redistricting to blame for lack of interesting congressional races in PA

By   /   August 23, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – In 2014, there probably won’t be a lot of drama in Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional races.

That’s a big change from how things were during the last decade, when the Keystone State was home to several districts that swung from one party to the other. But a new report from Governing Magazine suggests the state’s redistricting process is the main reason why the next decade of congressional races in Pennsylvania will be mostly snoozers.

PACKED AND CRACKED: Democrats control two districts in Philadelphia, one in Pittsburgh, one in the Philly suburbs and one in the northeast. Republicans have everything else.

“In Pennsylvania, the Republican party, which controlled both legislative chambers and the governorship, used its remapping authority to turn what had been a highly competitive congressional map over the previous decade into one with virtually no competitive contests,” wrote Louis Jacobson.

Following the 2001 redistricting process in which Pennsylvania was reduced to 19 congressional districts from 21 districts the decade before, Republicans were able to extend their 11-10 edge to a 12-7 edge in the 2002 congressional elections.

But Pennsylvania was a real swing state for the first decade of the 2000s. By 2008, Democrats had captured five districts from Republicans to build a 12-7 majority within the Keystone State’s delegation.

In the 2010 election, it all swung back the other way. Republicans won five districts that year, boosted by the tea party and a national wave that saw Republicans retake control of the U.S. House.

“The confluence of a rapid partisan realignment and a lot of potentially competitive districts produced a surplus of volatile seats during the decade,” particularly in the Philadelphia suburbs, wrote Jacobson.

But don’t expect that trend to continue in the 2010s.

DELEGATIONS: There were plenty of competitive races in Pennsylvania during the first decade of the 2000s.

DELEGATIONS: There were plenty of competitive races in Pennsylvania during the first decade of the 2000s.

With the GOP also running the redistricting process in 2011, Republicans decided to build upon their advantage. Two Democrats were forced into the same district in western Pennsylvania and Republican districts were made safer across the board.

Some of the new districts in Pennsylvania were named among the “least compact” in the nation.

The immediate consequence was a 13-5 Republican advantage after the 2012 election – remarkable in a state where Democrats hold a registration edge of more than 1 million voters.

The less obvious consequence is the fact that those five Democratic districts are now unassailable, as are many of the Republican seats, thanks to the GOP decision to pack districts with as many like-minded voters as possible.

“In interviews, political experts from across the ideological spectrum agreed that the Democrats’ chances of ousting a Republican incumbent in 2014 — a low-turnout, midterm election year — are low,” wrote Jacobson.

Which seats are competitive?

According to Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia who tracks all congressional races with his “Crystal Ball” blog, there are 11 “safe” GOP seats in Pennsylvania and five “safe” Democratic seats.

That leaves only the 12th district, which Sabato ranks as “likely GOP,” and the 8th district, which he rates as “leans GOP.”

But this trend of safe seats is not a Pennsylvania-only phenomena. Sabato ranks only eight races in the entire nation as true “toss ups.”

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

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