Sabato's Crystal Ball

Notes on the State of Politics

U.Va. Center for Politics December 22nd, 2011

Primary date musical chairs

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Republican presidential primary battle as we approach Iowa, at least the schedule for primaries and caucuses is set in stone, right? Guess again. It turns out that even the calendar is keeping us on our toes this campaign cycle. Ohio and Texas, two major states with a large number of delegates — Ohio with 66, and Texas with 155 — have shifted their primaries to new dates.

On Dec. 15, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio signed off on moving the Ohio primary to Super Tuesday (March 6) from its previous position on June 12. This move was part of a larger bill that finished redistricting and ensures that Ohio will hold only one primary for all its races, not two (saving the state $15 million). Now that it’s a part of Super Tuesday, Ohio likely will have a better chance of influencing the race for the GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, the Lone Star State had to shift its primary from Super Tuesday back to April 3 because of ongoing drama over its congressional redistricting. After Texas Republicans drew a new map to account for the state’s four new districts, the Justice Department decided to fight the map in court, claiming it did not satisfy the Voting Rights Act. The District of Columbia Federal District Court ordered a three-judge panel in San Antonio to draw an interim map because the lawsuit would not be finished in time for the Texas primary. The San Antonio judges drew a map that was more favorable to Democrats, prompting Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) to file a case with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the map, which the court did, and now a January hearing will decide things. The problem is, the filing deadline for state and congressional elections was Dec. 19 but the boundaries aren’t set, making it hard to file.

Given the messy situation, Texas Republicans and Democrats agreed to move the state’s primary back to allow for a new secondary filing period and to give the court time to decide on redistricting. Otherwise, the state was facing the prospect of having multiple primaries, costing taxpayers more money and creating more confusion. The one man who cannot be happy about this is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. If he is to make a comeback in the GOP presidential race, he had to have been expecting Texas to give him strong backing on Super Tuesday. Now, Texas won’t vote until April 3.

Geoffrey Skelley

New House maps in Ohio, Pennsylvania solidify 2010 GOP gains

Over the past couple of weeks, Republicans have gotten a lot of help from redistricting in their quest to keep control of the House.

A new Republican-drawn map in Pennsylvania should go a long way toward helping the GOP keep the districts they won from Democrats last year. Christmas came early for freshmen Republican Reps. Mike Kelly (PA-3), Lou Barletta (PA-11) and Pat Meehan (PA-7), who all saw their districts made several points more Republican. Additionally, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R, PA-6) has much friendlier territory now than he has had in previous elections, although President Obama still would have carried the district in 2008.

Republicans, as expected, also picked off a Democratic seat by merging the Western Pennsylvania seats of Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the new 12th District (Pennsylvania lost a seat because of slow population growth). This is a district John McCain would have won in 2008, but then again Altmire and Critz already occupy Red territory. The winner of the expected primary between the two will be slightly favored to keep the seat.

To the west, in Ohio, a Democratic attempt to force a Republican-drawn map to a referendum failed, and Republicans effectively got the map they wanted, which will turn their current 13-5 edge into a likely 12-4 advantage in this slightly Red but highly competitive state. The best Democratic possibility is an incumbent vs. incumbent matchup, where Rep. Betty Sutton (D) — who lost her district — will take on freshman Rep. Jim Renacci (R) in a Northeast Ohio district. Renacci is favored but Sutton could win under the right conditions.

Meanwhile, the new map could spell doom for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) — he likely will have to run against Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) in a Lake Erie shore district that is more favorable to Kaptur because it contains much more of her Toledo base than Kucinich’s Cleveland base. It’s possible that Kucinich will run in a neighboring majority-minority Cleveland-to-Akron district, where Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) is being challenged by another black lawmaker, state Sen. Nina Turner (D).

Kyle Kondik