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Examining Redistricting’s Role in November Elections

June 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Democrats held on to a seat in a competitive House district in Arizona Tuesday when congressional aide Ron Barber -- who was wounded in the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 -- won the special election to serve the remainder of her term. Judy Woodruff looks at the overall House landscape ahead of November elections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To politics next.

Democrats held on to a seat in a competitive House race in Arizona last night. Congressional aide Ron Barber, who was wounded in the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, he won the special election to serve the remainder of her term.

And with the majority of the primaries now behind us, we take a look at the overall House landscape this November.

The battle for control of the House of Representatives started on the last election night, 2010, when Republicans won a sweeping victory. From that moment, Democrats have been plotting to take back the gavel.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked about her party’s chances during an appearance on ABC last month.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC News: If the election were held today, do you think the Democrats would win?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: Yes, I do. I think it would be dead-even, about — the speaker said three, a third — a 30 percent chance that they would lose or something. But I think it’s bigger than that. But what he did say that was correct was that there are about 50 Republican seats in play. I would say 75. So, I feel pretty good about where we are.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That came after House Speaker John Boehner made this assessment of the GOP’s prospects in April on FOX News.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: I would say there is a two-in-three chance that we win control of the House again, but there’s a one-in-three chance that we could lose. And I’m being, myself, frank. We have got a big challenge, and we have got work to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A new Reuters poll found that voters nationally would pick the Democratic candidate in their district 47 percent to 44 percent over the Republican choice, giving Democrats confidence that winning the majority is at least possible.

But the fact is, Democrats need 25 more seats to take back power this fall, and both parties know the decennial redistricting process makes that even harder.

Shira Toeplitz covers congressional elections for Roll Call.

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, Roll Call: Redistricting has drastically changed a lot of these competitive House seats. Places where in the last 10 years, we have seen competitive House races, they aren’t as competitive anymore because one party or the other redrew the lines around these House seats to make them more Democratic or more Republican.

On the whole, Republicans controlled most of the map-making processes in a lot of these battleground states, states like North Carolina, states like Texas, states like Florida, these key states where we have seen a lot of difficult House races in past cycles. So I would say redistricting tilts in their favor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Already, redistricting has claimed four sitting members who lost their jobs thanks to being drawn into the same district with a colleague. And there are several more of those contests to come. That’s not counting the 27 members who have chosen to retire instead of run for reelection.

Some had newly drawn districts that would be tougher to win this time around. Both parties were affected by all this, Democrats a little harder. But they still see opportunity, especially in states where President Obama performed well in 2008.

Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report tracks competitive races.

NATHAN GONZALES, Rothenberg Political Report: I think, when you look at the overall fight for the House, Democrats are looking at three key states, California, Illinois and Florida. I think they need to win a handful of districts in each of those states if they have any chance of winning the majority nationwide.

And even though there are opportunities for them, they are going to be difficult. Every one — every single one of them is going to be a fight. Republicans were very shrewd in their redistricting moves. They took their freshmen that were elected in 2010. They have made a lot of the districts safer and took vital, competitive seats off the map, particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The NewsHour will continue to track these House races. Visit our Politics page to learn more about the landscape and some of the most interesting contests we’re watching this election year.

Also on our website, you can watch a report about the Arizona special election to replace Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords from our colleagues at Arizona Public Media.