The census is being completed and this sets up the next, possibly more important battle in politics in 2011. As everyone is aware, despite the advertisements about steering federal dollars your way, the census is mandated by the Constitution. It is determine the population of states for representation in Congress. Additionally, under our electoral system, it determines the number of electoral votes each state receives in the next Presidential election. Boundaries are redrawn to reflect population changes not only across state lines, but within the states themselves. Each Congressional district is under mandates to be as geographically contiguous as possible and equal in population as possible. In 36 of 43 states with more than one representative, that task is left to State legislatures and the Governor's signature. In five states- Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, and Washington- that task is handled by a bipartisan commission. In the other two states- Iowa and Maine- it is determined by an independent panel subject to legislature approval.
The importance of the midterm elections this year extend far beyond some referendum on the policies of Obama or whether Republicans take over the House. These elections- especially at the Governor level- take on greater importance since it is these elected officials who will decide the new boundaries. Additionally, the shift in electoral votes may potentially change the landscape of the 2012 Presidential election. The changes may not be enough to change the eventual outcome, but they will shift the focus of attention of candidates in the 2012 election cycle. For example, of the 10 states expected to see electoral gains as a result of the census, six of them went to McCain in 2008. Of the the remaining four, Obama barely won in two of them. Conversely, of the 11 states expected to lose electoral votes, Obama won 10 of those states. That is 10 less electoral votes. Taken overall, this would represent a flip of 21 electoral votes to the Republican nominee in 2012, not enough to win an election, but make it closer. Looking at the states were Obama won only marginally (by 6 percentage points or less) and taking into account the electoral changes, the Republican would win the Presidency. Those states are Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
So besides the Senatorial campaigns and the entire House up for election, besides the noted voter anger out there and the disgust with imcumbents, despite the alleged influence of the tea party crowd, there are the equally important local elections for state legislatures and Governors. They will decide the Congressional districts in 2011 in advance of the 2012 elections for President and House. Of the 22 states to either gain or lose Congresspeople this year, 16 have Governor races also this year. Nine of the 22 states have Republican dominated legislatures, 10 have Democratic dominated legislatures and three have split legislatures.
The following are Republican dominated states that stand to gain seats in the House- Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Florida and posibly Georgia. All but Georgia have Governor's races this year. The only Republican state that stand to lose a seat is Louisiana. Conversely, no Democratic state stand to gain any seats. Most of the movement will be in the swing states- Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio. Another traditional swing state, Indiana, should show no change. After the 2008 election, one could conceivably include Virginia and North Carolina although only the latter may possibly gain a seat. Republican gains started in 2009 with victories in Virginia (no surprise) and New Jersey where Chris Christie defeated Democratic incumbent and Obama-backed Jon Corzine. So what do the polls say about some of these races?
The race in Arizona between incumbent Jan Brewer (Republican) and Terry Goddard is interesting especially since that much-maligned immigration law was signed. Perhaps, she latched onto a concept top run with in Arizona. South Carolina's race is interesting only insofar as the allegations of the sexual escapades of Nikki Haley, but a Republican should win. Texas, which stands to make the greatest electoral gains, pits incumbent Republican Rick Perry against Bill White, perhaps the strongest Democratic challenger in a while. Perry has lately opened a double-digit lead over White with most of his earlier low numbers attributable to his primary battle against Hutchison. In California, Jerry Brown has benefited from some Republican in-fighting, but this race (most likely, Meg Whitman) will get closer. If Whitman can rightfully portray Brown as an old school liberal, the type that drove California into virtual bankrupcy, she may prevail.
Colorado is an interesting study which pits Democratic mayor of Denver John Hicklenhooper against Republican Scot McInniss. This race has been back and forth since January which started out as a tie, then Hicklenhooper grabbed the lead, then McInniss and now it is back to a virtual tie. Illinois provides yet another opportunity to strike a psychological blow on the Democrats since this is Obama's home state. In fact, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn currently trails by 5 points.
Ohio is another race that has been up and down with incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland currently up by only two points although he has trailed by as much as 5 points. Florida should remain Republican with Bill McCollum leading Alex Sink by as much as 10 points, but those numbers have dropped recently. Nevada is an important state that went for Obama in 2008. However, their legislature is split with an incumbent Republican governor in Jim Gibbons. The Democrats will probably field Rory Reid, Harry Reid's son. In hypothetical match ups thus far, Reid leads Gibbons by three points. However, if the Republican nominee is Brian Sandoval, Reid loses by 15 points. This is once very tangible instance where the Republican Party needs to decide quickly whether to support the incumbent or the more electable challenger.
Additionally, Republicans have good chances of winning the Governor's mansions in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Each state presents its own challenges on the local level. None necessarily are a referendum on the policies of Obama per se. So the challenge for Republicans is to address local issues, not be drawn into some talk of hypothetical referedums on Obama. A perfect example for success is to field candidates in the mold of Chris Christie. Here, you have a Governor not afraid to speak the truth, no matter how painful. Being a resident of New Jersey, I have watched with pride as he has stood up to the powerful teacher's union and forced concessions with a principled, consistent message. Although his personal popularity ratings may have dipped- a casualty of hard truths- support for the arguments of the teacher's union has dwindled more. He has taken a page out of the Democratic strategy playbook of fostering class warfare of the rich versus the rest of us. In New Jersey, it is the teacher's union (not teachers) against the tax payers in the state- rich and not so rich alike. If Republicans play this as if treating Democrats as the equivalent of the NJEA, they can have success. Each state would be different. In many states, the issue could be taxes or out of control state spending. In states like Michigan and Ohio it could be job creation and economic diversification. In Arizona and California, it could be the effects of illegal immigrants. By creating an atmosphere of reverse class warfare with Democratic Party ideals and policies- of portraying oneself consistently as more reflective of the majority- Republicans can make great gains at the state elected office level and ensure a greater say when reapportionment occurs.