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Fight over one state’s congressional maps echoes broader national trend

BY Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  August 12, 2014 at 9:13 AM EST
State Capitol of Florida, Tallahassee. Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

State Capitol of Florida, Tallahassee. Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Florida’s congressional district reworking draws criticism
  • It’s all part of a national story
  • Political change in Iraq
  • Election Day in Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin

New maps: By court order, Florida’s legislature passed new congressional maps Monday along party lines that Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign. Democrats are still likely to contest the maps, which could end up in the Supreme Court. A circuit court judge had ruled that by Friday, the legislature had to create new maps because the earlier ones violated state constitutional amendments that mandated “fairness” in redrawing congressional maps by using “city, county and geographical boundaries.” Instead, what got created by a majority Republican legislature were districts that stretched and snaked across a state and made Florida one of the least representative congressional delegations in the country. Of Florida’s 25 congressional districts, 17 are represented by Republicans. President Barack Obama won Florida narrowly in 2012 — 49.9 percent to 49 percent. If Florida was divided evenly based on those results, it would be 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans, a 10-seat swing. That’s an imperfect way to divide districts, but the statewide vote shows at least an approximation of the state’s overall partisan makeup. The judge will hold another hearing on the maps Aug. 20, just six days before the state’s primaries. “Thousands of ballots have already been cast [for the primaries]… and county election supervisors have said it would cost millions of dollars to re-schedule elections in the 23 impacted counties,” the Orlando Sentinel writes.

A broader trend: Nationwide, Democrats are underrepresented by about 19 seats, according to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, who has devoted more time and energy to redistricting than almost anyone in the country over the last few years. In fact, his Twitter handle is STILL @redistrict. In 2012, despite Republicans retaining control of the House, Democrats actually won 1.4 million more votes in House races, or 50.6 percent. Why does that matter? Because if the congressional districts were divided based on that, Nancy Pelosi would still be speaker. Democrats would have about 220 seats, two more than needed to pass legislation on things like immigration, infrastructure, etc. But that’s not the way it works. Republicans over the last decade devoted a lot of time and energy to state legislative races and won back more governor’s seats than Democrats. That’s part of the game. As the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney wrote Sunday, “Republicans now control 59 of the 99 partisan legislative chambers, and have complete political control — both legislative houses and the governor’s mansion — in 23 states, while Democrats control 13. The total number of states ruled by a single political party, 36, is the highest in six decades.” Part of the problem for Democrats is that with migration to cities, they have become so much an urban party that they are easily clustered and drawn together. And Democrats are not guilt-free of gerrymandering. Just take a look at the Rorschach-test like drawing of Maryland’s third congressional district, which meanders and maneuvers through disparate parts of the state picking up Democratic voters and giving Democrats the ability to eliminate a Republican seat.

Racial complication: Not all Democrats are up in arms about the map. In fact, the one with arguably the most gerrymandered district in the state, Corrine Brown — whose 5th Congressional District snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando — is in favor of keeping her district as is. Why? Because its overwhelmingly black and Democratic makeup keeps her district safe. “Brown’s district was first drawn in 1992 when black Democrats aligned with white Republicans to create two districts that elected the first blacks to Congress in Florida since Reconstruction,” the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald writes. But state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando told the Orlando Sentinel, “We still have a one-is-enough mentality.” Brown’s seat is not unlike what has been done in other states, where Republican legislatures “pack” in Democratic — in this case black Democratic voters — to make surrounding seats safer Republican ones. Look, for example, at North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, which stretches some 90 miles in a thin line from Greensboro to Charlotte. It’s all about packing and “cracking” when these seats are redrawn — packing in voters to make seats safer for one party — and “cracking” heavily concentrated urban areas, like Democratic Austin, Texas, to dissipate the strength of that party and protect more rural and suburban seats.

Iraq latest: What a difference a day makes. On Monday, Nouri al-Maliki was going on Iraqi TV accusing the Iraqi president of a constitutional “coup.” Later that day, the parliament picks a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and the U.S. comes out and backs him. President Obama called it a “promising step forward” and “an important step towards forming a new government that can unite Iraq’s different communities” during his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. The president said he and Vice President Joe Biden called the new prime minister and gave him their backing. They urged the forming of a new cabinet — “one that’s inclusive of all Iraqis, and one that represents all Iraqis.” But he warned again of potential long-term involvement, noting the likelihood of “difficult days ahead,” but that the U.S. would “stand ready to partner with Iraq in its fight against these terrorist forces.” U.S. officials have long been saying that there’s no permanent military solution and that a political one would have to be forged. They HOPE this is a first step.

Election Day in Connecticut, Wisconsin and Minnesota: If it’s Tuesday… there aren’t any marquee races on the ballot, but as we previewed Monday, voting takes place in three states — Connecticut, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In what could be one of the tightest races Tuesday night, Roll Call notes that there’s no clear frontrunner in the race for Wisconsin’s lone open House seat, but whoever wins the GOP contest will likely head to Congress. Connecticut’s polls close at 8 p.m. ET. Minnesota and Wisconsin close at 9 p.m. ET.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1955, President Eisenhower increased the minimum wage. What was the new minimum wage? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Ben Goodman ‏(@BenGoodman) for guessing Monday’s trivia: What did President Reagan say during a weekly radio broadcast, joking about the Soviet Union? The answer was: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

LINE ITEMS

  • Senate candidate Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, is saying she believes there were voting “irregularities” during Saturday’s primary election that was disrupted by a tropical storm.

  • According to a new McClatchy-Marist poll, 42 percent of voters say their low opinion of President Obama makes it more likely for them to vote Republican in the November elections.

  • Politico profiles Elise Stefanik, a former George W. Bush White House aide running for Congress in upstate New York, who would be the youngest member of Congress at just 30 years old.

  • The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports that Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, is considering his long-term career options in the Lone Star state and nationally, and he’s not afraid to admit it.

  • Yahoo News’ Meredith Shiner followed Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on his recent two-day tour of coal country, an important area to gain support in the senator’s tough re-election race.

  • Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn is up with her first negative ad against Republican David Perdue, knocking him for sending jobs overseas.

  • Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is planning one last effort to push an omnibus spending bill once Congress returns from recess.

  • After hiring Mikey Dickerson away from Google to fix HealthCare.gov in 2013, the White House has hired Dickerson to lead the United States Digital Team, which will identify and fix the government’s websites and computer systems.

  • Speaking at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser on Martha’s Vineyard Monday night, Mr. Obama said that one reason he needs a Democratic Senate is that “we’re going to have Supreme Court appointments.”

  • With only a few more days left before the former majority leader resigns from Congress, Rep. Eric Cantor’s press secretary is moving down south to join David Perdue’s Georgia Senate campaign.

  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who’s running to the middle in her first re-election bid, is likely to benefit from a late GOP primary, leading even Republicans to privately confess she’s the state’s safest vulnerable Democrat.

  • University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Larry Sabato marks the centennial of popular elections for the Senate.

  • Mitt Romney will campaign for GOP Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and two House candidates in West Virginia next week. Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant quickly responded in a statement, calling Romney “coal’s public enemy #1.”

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak informant $854,460 over two decades to provide them with information they could have obtained for free.

  • The Republican party is getting behind Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in Maine Tuesday to campaign for Gov. Paul LePage and headline two fundraisers for the state GOP.

  • A Democratic challenger to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be allowed to appear on the September primary ballot, after a judge ruled that she is a resident of the state.

  • In spite of the ire Gov. Cuomo has drawn over his interference with an ethics commission, the incumbent is leading his Republican challenger by 32 points, according to a Siena College poll.

  • Longtime CBS News political editor Dotty Lynch died Sunday. As the first female chief polltaker for a presidential campaign, she was among the first to target the gender voting gap.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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