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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Redistricting targets could seek other opportunities

By Aaron Blake

Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) could all face tough decisions about where and what to run for in 2012.

Redistricting is a long and scary process if you're a member of Congress, and it can force you to take political gambles to keep your career alive.

Like run for Senate.

As states across the country begin to look at drawing their new congressional maps, the members who are most likely to get the short straw in the remapping often look for something else to run for rather than try to survive in whatever district they get drawn into.

In 2001, Georgia Democrats threatened to dismantle Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss's district. In exchange, he threatened to run statewide. They destroyed his district, and he went on to defeat Democratic Sen. Max Cleland (D) in 2002.

More recently, in 2008, both Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) opted to wage uphill (and ultimately unsuccessful) campaigns for Senate knowing full well that, if they didn't, their House districts would likely be much tougher to win after redistricting controlled by Republicans in their states.

So which members might find running for reelection in 2012 to be inhospitable?

After the jump is our look at a few members of the House might have a little more "motivation" to seek out other opportunities before next November.

Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) : Donnelly has publicly said that he will see what happens to his district before deciding what to run for in 2012. With Republicans controlling redistricting in Indiana, Donnelly's South Bend-area district could be decimated. Those close to him say he's looking very seriously at running for Senate, where his chances would be largely dependent on whether Sen. Richard Lugar (R) loses a primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.): Peters is widely considered the most likely target of the GOP-led redistricting process in Michigan. The Wolverine State loses a seat, and many see Peters getting drawn into a district with more seasoned colleague -- most likely Rep. Sander Levin (D). Speculation has it that Peters is eyeing a run at Oakland County executive as an alternative, but another option might be to run for another House seat, perhaps against Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R).

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) : Like Peters, Carnahan appears to be the odd man out as Missouri loses a seat. And whether he's drawn into a district with Rep. Todd Akin (R) or Rep. Lacy Clay (D), he will be an underdog. But with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) set to run against Gov. Jay Nixon (D), the state's No. 2 job would be open, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch seems to think Carnahan might look in that direction. (Also keep an eye on Akin, who hasn't ruled out a run against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.)

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah): Utah Republicans need to decide what they want to do with Matheson's district as they add a new fourth district to the Beehive State map, but there aren't a lot of good options for the congressman. In the end, he may decide that 2012 is as good a time as any to make the jump to statewide office. Here's why it makes sense: (1) His father is a former governor, and (2) both Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) are up for reelection, and both could face a battle for the Republican nomination. A weakened GOP nominee could open the door for Matheson.

Reps. Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.): Sure, neither Lynch nor Capuano is likely to see his district eliminated when the state loses a district (that's more likely to happen in western Massachusetts), but the fact that the state is losing a district could push one of them towards making the jump. A top Democratic redistricting expert suggested to The Fix earlier this year that either Capuano or Lynch would run for Senate -- sacrificing his district in exchange for the delegation's support in the Democratic primary to face Sen. Scott Brown (R).

Reps. Dan Webster and Allen West (R-Fla.): A new constitutional amendment in Florida may affect how much latitude Republicans have in redrawing the lines, and Webster and West could both see their marginal districts get significantly more Democratic. Webster has run for Senate before, briefly in 2004, and West's profile as a national tea party darling keeps growing -- to the point where it's not hard to see him running for Senate. Neither is making moves toward a Senate run, but that could change. "I think if the opportunity presented itself and their districts were made much bluer ... then sure, why not?" said GOP consultant Brian Graham, who managed Webster's 2010 House campaign and has polled for West.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.): Democrats control the redistricting process in West Virginia, and Capito's district could be targeted. While she's not running in the special election for governor this year, she could run when a full term is up in 2012. Capito has a few things going for her if she plans to stay put, though: (1) Freshman GOP Rep. David McKinley's swing district could be a much more attractive redistricting target for Democrats, and (2) Democrats may be wary of forcing Capito out of her congressional seat, knowing full well that she would be formidable in a statewide race.

Arizona : The state has an independent redistricting commission, so anything can happen when the lines are drawn. Rep. Jeff Flake (R) is already in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), but several other members of the delegation have also been mentioned, including Reps. Trent Franks (R), Ben Quayle (R) and Gabrielle Giffords (D), who is recovering from an assassination attempt. That said, the commission has protected incumbents before, so it's not clear that any of them have much to fear.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) : Republicans haven't yet found an opponent for Sen. Bob Menendez (D), and Lance's name rarely comes up in that conversation. But maybe it should. The state is losing a district, and one of the most-talked-about solutions is to draw Lance into a district with one of his neighbors. Lance is a well-regarded politician who won a tough House race in 2008 and would be a solid recruit against Menendez, whose approval ratings are not great.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.): Like New Jersey and Arizona, Washington has a redistricting commission, and it's going to be interesting to see what it does with Reichert's district -- one of the bluer districts nationwide that didn't go Democratic in 2006 or 2008. A popular theory is that the commission makes the new district the state adds before 2012 a lean Democratic one and shores up Reichert and freshman Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) in exchange. But if the commission doesn't do that or if Reichert is concerned about his new district, does he consider a run for governor or even against Sen. Maria Cantwell (D)?

Ohio: Republicans don't have much direction yet in their effort to dislodge Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in 2012, but a number of House members have been mentioned. And Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) acknowledged last month that redistricting, which will strip the state of two congressional seats, could affect his thinking about a potential Senate bid. "It can certainly enter into it," he said. But LaTourette has little to fear, given his seniority and the fact that Republicans will draw the map. More likely Republican targets are freshman GOP Reps. Bob Gibbs and Bill Johnson. And neither of them appear to be statewide material. And on the Democratic side, do Reps. Dennis Kucinich or Betty Sutton run for something else if their districts get collapsed?

By Aaron Blake  | March 10, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Redistricting, Senate  
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