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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 12/30/2010

Which Massachusetts Democrat will leave the House?

By Aaron Blake


A Massachusetts Democrat is leaving the House in 2012, whether he or she likes it or not.

Massachusetts found out last week that it is one of 10 states that will lose a seat in Congress. And about now, its members of Congress are probably getting a little nervous.

The good news for them, though, is that they are unlikely to be pitted against each other. Massachusetts, unlike many other states on the chopping block, probably won't have to go through a painful redistricting process.

And who do the 10 members of the state's all-Democratic delegation have to thank for that? Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.).

Had Brown not shocked the world by winning a special election in January, there wouldn't be an opportunity for a Democratic member of Congress to challenge him. And without the opportunity for a promotion, the only way to avoid two members running against each other would have been if one retired.

As it stands now, it appears likely that at least one member of the delegation will run against Brown. Failing that, the members could hope one of two septuagenarian members retires.

Massachusetts is the largest state with an all-Democratic delegation -- 10 members who have served, in all but one case, for at least a decade.

Those 10 members will have to fit into nine districts come 2012. But with a few of them eyeing Brown and a possible retirement or two, it's logical that at least one incumbent will leave the House, allowing for the elimination of his or her district and letting everyone rest easier.

The question is, who will it be?

A few options:

* Rep. Michael Capuano - Capuano ran for the Senate seat in the special election last year, losing the Democratic primary to state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who went on to lose to Brown. Given that Capuano was the only member of the delegation who stepped forward to run last time (and the disaster that ensued with Coakley's campaign), it seems logical that he would run again.

* Rep. Stephen Lynch - Lynch, who briefly considered a special election bid, is often grouped with Capuano as the members who are most likely to run for Senate. He needs to decide, though, whether his vote against the health care bill killed his chances of winning a Democratic primary.

* Rep. Barney Frank - Frank has also been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate, but mostly he's the No. 1 candidate for retirement. Being 70 years old is the profile of a retiree -- not a freshman senator who once chaired the powerful House Financial Services Committee. And losing your gavel, as Frank is about to, often leads to a curtain call.

* Rep. John Olver - Olver has insisted that he is running for reelection, but he's 74 years old and he's already got a primary challenger, in former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo. If Nuciforo can run a viable campaign, that's an incentive for Olver to step aside. (Insider tip: state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D), who is often thought of as a potential Olver successor, will play a major role in drawing the map, so don't expect him to do Nuciforo any favors.)

The good news for all these Democrats is that, regardless of who exits the House, the new map will be drawn by Democrats. For the first time in three decades, Democrats hold the governor's mansion and both branches of the state legislature.

Larry DiCara, a former Boston city council president and Democratic redistricting guru, said the map can indeed be drawn around whoever might retire or run for Senate, allowing for all nine other members to run in comfortable districts.

He also noted that backdoor meetings could give one of the members a relatively clear Senate primary, by using the drawing of districts as a bargaining chip with the state's delegation.

"One of them says, 'I'll go for the Senate, and you can nuke my district if all you guys step up and do x, y and z,'" DiCara said. "They might say, 'Where do we sign up?'"

Republicans are aiming the get their piece of the pie, too, though.

Despite having a Republican governor in 2001, the new map didn't feature much opportunity for the GOP. This time, state Rep.-elect Dan Winslow, who was involved as a lawyer in past redistricting, and other Republicans are pushing for a fairer map. They have launched, which seeks to apply grassroots pressure on the legislature to conduct an even-handed redistricting process. (The state legislature has balked at an effort to create a bipartisan redistricting commission.)

Winslow is also pushing for the creation of a majority-minority district in Boston by citing the Voting Rights Act, which requires such districts to be drawn where feasible.

Currently, Capuano's Suffolk County-based 8th district has a slight majority of non-white residents, but the voting population is majority-white. Winslow said creating a truer majority-minority districts could lead to an overhaul of the map, which might create opportunities for Republicans.

"We should expect to see at least one congressional district where a person of color would be competitive for Congress ... and at least two or three congressional districts where a Republican would be competitive for Congress," Winslow said.

Whatever map is drawn, Democrats will be losing at least a seat in Congress, which is not welcome news. The good news for them is, save for a successful legal challenge from the GOP and/or minority groups, they should get another friendly map out of the process.

By Aaron Blake  | December 30, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Mapping the Future, Redistricting  
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