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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Members likely to be pitted against each other with Ohio losing two seats

By Aaron Blake

ohio.jpg

This is the sixth in an occasional series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it "Mapping the Future". The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Ohio. (And make sure to check out the first five installments: Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois and Massachusetts.)

Ohio is losing two congressional seats, which means 2012 could feature incumbent battles galore in the Buckeye State.

With Ohio Republicans in charge of the redistricting process, two Cleveland-area Democrats are almost sure to be drawn into the same district. The big unknown is where else the GOP decides to eliminate the second seat.

The GOP controls redistricting after winning the governor's mansion and holding both chambers of the state legislature in 2010. But the announcement two weeks ago that the state will lose two House seats is likely to jeopardize a Republican seat.

By winning five seats in Ohio in 2010, Republicans are basically at their seat ceiling right now. They hold 13 of 18 seats, and with two of those seats set for elimination, maintaining 13 winnable districts will be very, very difficult.

"That would require some acrobatics very few Republicans have ever attempted," said David Wasserman, a redistricting expert at the Cook Political Report.

The first seat is relatively easy for Republicans to eliminate. All five Democrats in the state's delegation are clustered in adjoining districts in northern and northeastern Ohio.

Thanks to population loss in the Cleveland area, eliminating one of those districts is as simple as merging those five districts into four, and letting the chips fall where they may.

There has been a good bit of consternation among liberals that their champion -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) -- would be targeted by this process, but a more likely candidate would appear to be Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio).

Her Akron-based 13th district borders three other Democrats -- Kucinich to the north, Rep. Marcy Kaptur to the west and Rep. Tim Ryan to the east. By moving more of Akron into Ryan's 17th district, more of Lorain into Kaptur's 9th and expanding Kucinich's Cleveland-based 10th district slightly, Sutton's district would basically be collapsed.

The remaining Republican areas in the middle of Sutton's district could be given to freshman Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) in the 16th district to help shore him up.

(Be sure to follow along on the congressional map here.)

The options for Sutton, at that point, are all bad. She could run in a primary against Kucinich or Ryan (whose district would be taking on Sutton's geographic base), but in neither case would she be given much of a chance.

Kaptur and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) are most likely to come out off the process unscathed. Fudge's district, the state's lone majority-black seat, probably won't be significantly altered, and while Kaptur may take on more territory, she's the least likely primary opponent for Sutton.

Once Republicans have reduced five Democratic seats to four, they must decide where to cut next.

The logical answer is southeast Ohio.

Southeastern Ohio has lost significant population, and the congressmen representing the area will both be freshmen with little political clout.

Incoming Reps. Bob Gibbs and Bill Johnson could see their districts merged in order to protect the rest of the GOP's gains in the state, which are pretty tenuous right now.

Johnson will represent the 6th district, which was drawn along the eastern Ohio border for outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland when he was in the House. Gibbs will take over the massive and rural 18th district, which shares a long border with the 6th. Pushing those two districts together is a pretty easy proposition.

But geography isn't the only reason Gibbs and Johnson are logical targets. The other is that they are the two least-heralded freshmen in the delegation. (Republicans have high hopes for Renacci and Rep. Steve Stivers, and Rep. Steve Chabot has been in Congress before). Johnson, an anti-tax advocate whose victory over former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) was among the most surprising in the country, wasn't a top recruit and isn't close to the GOP establishment in the state.

The other option for the GOP could be if Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or another member of the delegation opts to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2012. But collapsing a district in the middle of the state, where Jordan's 4th district is, would be considerably more difficult than doing it in the southeast.

What's clear, though, is that a Republican will probably lose his seat in the redstricting process --a fact even former state GOP chairman Bob Bennett has acknowledged.

"I think it is going to be very difficult to create a map in Ohio where the Democrats only have three seats in a state that's a competitive two-party state," Bennett told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer recently.

While getting rid of one Republican may be painful, the alternative was much worse for Republicans. Had Democrats held on to either the governor's mansion or the state House (where they held a slight edge before November), Republicans wouldn't have nearly as much leeway with the map. And members like Stivers, Chabot, Renacci and Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) wouldn't be able to count on getting shored up.

Simply put: A best-case scenario for the GOP in the next Congress would probably be to hold 12 of 16 remaining congressional districts.

By Aaron Blake  | January 5, 2011; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Mapping the Future, Redistricting  
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