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The top eight redistricting battles of 2010

By Aaron Blake

Republicans have increasingly touted their goal of upping their share of governors seats to 30 this year.

It's a clean, round number, and it's an attainable goal. But it also misses the point, at least when it comes to the all-important redistricting process.

Put plainly, unlike House and Senate seats, not all governor's seats are created equal, and having a majority doesn't serve any functional purpose.

Big states -- by population -- simply matter more for a variety of reasons but, most notably, because of their role in the decennial Congressional line-drawing process known as redistricting.

Every ten years, a handful of states gain or lose seats based on population rises and declines -- a process that hands power to create or destroy careers typically in the hands of a governor and a small group of state legislators.

Big states are typically the, um, biggest, winners and losers from this process and 2011 looks no different with places like Texas and Florida poised to gain seats and Michigan and Oho likely to lose them.

Democrats would gladly cede their seats in Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma if it means they can steal Florida or Texas from Republicans. The ability to move around the 10 combined Congressional districts in those small states is exponentially less appealing than being able to shape the 32 in Texas or the 25 in Florida.

As a result, parties will aim to control both chambers in the state legislature and the governor's mansion, or at least grab one of the three and prevent the other side from totally controlling the process. Democrats currently control 26 of 50 governorships and 60 of 98 state chambers, so there's lots of ground for Republicans to make up.

We know not everyone is keeping a close eye on governor's races, and that goes double for state legislatures. But we also can't emphasize enough how important these battles will be to the future of control of Congress.

With that, we give our redistricting cheat sheet: the top eight states where governor and state legislature battles will be priorities for both parties this year:

1. Florida governor

This is the big one. The state legislature here is heavily Republican, but Democrats' hopes of winning the state's gubernatorial race keep getting better. First, former health care executive Rick Scott defeated the establishment-backed candidate in the GOP primary, and then independent candidate Bud Chiles exited the race and endorsed Democratic nominee Alex Sink. Florida is slated to gain at least one Congressional seat, and Democrats who watch these things project the governor's race could determine control of seven or eight Congressional seats, when all is said and done.

2. Texas governor

The big redistricting battle at the start of the cycle was supposed to be for the Texas state House. But as Republicans have grown confident of holding their slim majority there, Democrats have been buoyed by their hopes of defeating Gov. Rick Perry (R) and controlling at least one arm of the redistricting process. (The Texas state Senate is solidly Republican). Texas will gain more Congressional seats than any other state, adding as many as four through reapportionment. So train a keen eye on former Houston Mayor Bill White's (D) gubernatorial campaign.

3. Pennsylvania governor and House

Republicans will likely win the Keystone State's governor's race this year. Republicans control the state Senate by a wide margin, so Democrats are either going to have to pull an upset in the governor's race or hold their precarious 104-98 majority in the state House. If it looks like Democrats will lose at least one of the two, resources are likely to flood the other one as a stop-gap. As many as half of the state's 19 Congressional districts are quite competitive, and Republicans could gain a big advantage with total control of the redistricting process.

4. Ohio governor and House

Ohio is a lot like its neighbor to the east. It's a big state with lots of competitive Congressional districts, and just about all of those competitive seats are held by Democrats right now. Also like Pennsylvania, the GOP holds a solid majority in the state Senate, and the real battle will be for governor and the state House. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and former Rep. John Kasich (R) are running one of the most competitive races in the country (the most recent poll notwithstanding), and Democrats control the state House 53-46. Ohio is also likely to lose more Congressional seats (two) than any other state.

5. Georgia governor

As in Florida, the Georgia GOP will almost surely hold both sides of the state legislature after 2010, but Democrats cling to hope in the governor's race. There it's former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) running against former Rep. Nathan Deal (R). The state is slated to gain one seat through reapportionment, and Reps. Jim Marshall (D), John Barrow (D) and Sanford Bishop (D) all hold districts that could easily flip to Republicans with a few line tweaks here or there.

6. New York Senate

Empire State Democrats hold a commanding lead in the governor's race and the state House, but their edge in the state Senate is just 32-29 (with one vacancy). Democrats have won nearly every competitive Congressional seat in the state in recent years and hold an astounding 27 of the state's 29 seats. New York is blue, but it's not that blue and so Republicans badly want a seat at the table to even things out a bit.

7. Michigan House

Democrats are basically conceding the governor's race and Republicans hold a solid majority in the state Senate (22-16). That makes the state House the Democrats' ticket. They hold a huge advantage right now -- 67-43 -- but the state's term-limits law frees up a lot of competitive seats, and Michigan Democrats are pretty unpopular right now.

8. Wisconsin governor, Senate and House

In no other state are all three elements of the redistricting process as competitive as in the Badger State. Democrats currently cling to all three, but the open governor's race is a toss-up and their state Senate (18-15) and state House (52-46) majorities are about as narrow as they come. Combined with a very competitive U.S. Senate race, and Wisconsin looks like a political hotbed this year.

By Aaron Blake  | September 7, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Battlegrounds, Governors  
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