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Florida and New York gain importance in 2010 with new redistricting estimates

By Aaron Blake

Eighteen states are slated to gain or lose congressional seats after this election cycle, with governor's race Florida and New York now taking on increased importance in this year's elections, according to the latest estimates from Election Data Services.

New York, which had previously been projected to lose one seat in reapportionment, is now slated to drop from 29 seats to 27 seats. Florida, meanwhile, has gone from gaining one seat to gaining two seats and would also have 27 districts for the 2012 elections.

That means, when districts are redrawn by the state legislatures and approved (or not) by the governor next year, two incumbents could get the squeeze in New York, while two brand new districts would be created in Florida.

While most states will be tinkering with the same number of districts that they had the last time congressional lines were redrawn a decade ago, states that are losing or gaining seats will see potentially seismic political changes. And that makes controlling the state legislature and the governor's mansion, which control that redistricting process in most states, that much more important.

So, while both major parties always place heavy emphasis on winning control of large population states like Florida, New York, Ohio and Texas, the stakes are that much higher in this year's election.

Election experts say this November's election will have one of the biggest impacts on redistricting in history, given the high number of competitive governor's races and the likelihood that lots of seats will change hands.

The battles for the governor's mansions in Florida, Ohio and Texas already led The Fix's look at the key governor and state legislative battles of 2010, before the new estimates came out. Gaining importance now is the battle over the New York state Senate.

With Democrats favored to hold both New York's governor's seat and the state House, the state Senate appears to be the GOP's last, best hope of having a seat at the table for redistricting next year.

While Democrats have a shot at controlling the process in New York, they have much work to do to gain a foothold in the line-drawing in Florida, Ohio and Texas.

Republicans already hold five of six state legislative chambers in that trio of states and they are hopeful they can take the Ohio House too. If that's the case, Democrats will need to win competitive governor's races in those states to have any say in redistricting.

The governor's race is particularly important in Florida, where Republicans have huge -- and virtually unassailable majorities in the state legislature but Democrats appear to have taken a lead in the governor's race between state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) and former health care executive Rick Scott (R).

If the GOP controls the process in those states, they would do their best to redistrict out two Democrats in Ohio and create seats for six new Republicans in Texas and Florida. (It's not always that easy, though, because population trends in the Lone Star State could make it difficult to add that many GOP seats.)

But while those states are the big fish, they aren't the only battles set for 2011.

Six other states are set to gain one seat, with most of them out West: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. And eight other states would lose one seat, with many of them in the Midwest and the Northeast: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Besides Florida and New York, the only other projections to change since last year are Minnesota and Missouri. While Minnesota was projected nine months ago to lose a seat, it is now slated to keep that seat. Missouri is the new odd man out, losing one seat instead of staying at nine seats.

The new projections, of course, are just that -- projections. Many of them could change in the coming months, as the government firms up its Census data.

EDS notes, for example, that its data do not include overseas military personnel, which in 2000 shifted a one-seat gain from Utah to North Carolina. Those changes loom even more in 2010, with the United States fighting two wars overseas.

Currently, Texas is the closest to losing one of its projected four new seats while New York is next in line to recoup one. Small population shifts could lead to Texas gaining only three seats and New York losing only one.

Minnesota is also very close to losing that seat again. It might actually be the first seat on the chopping block, given that Texas and Washington both have big military bases that should bolster their numbers when overseas personnel are included.

Likewise, Missouri could just as easily gain its seat back, with Arizona and Oregon also strong candidates to add another seat.

The reapportionment numbers are likely to shift by next year, but whatever happens, the big prizes remain the same. Republicans have suggested they could gain another 30 seats through a redistricting process that favors them (indeed, it looks like they may control the process in plenty of key states), but lots of pieces have to fall into place before that can happen.

By Aaron Blake  | September 27, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Redistricting  
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