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New realities of the ‘incumbent protection plan’ maps

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INDIANAPOLIS — This column is dedicated to the hundreds of Hoosiers who attended redistricting hearings across the state as well as the House and Senate chambers. I’ll leave you with this story:

In January 2004 I got a phone call from a man in Columbus who was pondering a challenge to the powerful Senate President Pro Tem Bob Garton in the Republican primary. “Should I run?” he asked. I explained to him that his chances of winning were slim, but he should run as a way to explore and vet issues in his community.

That caller ran and won. He attended the Senate redistricting hearings as State Sen. Greg Walker.

I tell this story because the new Indiana congressional and General Assembly maps might as well be called the “incumbent protection plan.”

Many of you who testified in August and September were pushing for an independent redistricting commission to draw fair maps filled with competitive districts. But the window for a constitutional amendment required would have taken a couple of General Assembly sessions, thus it closed several years ago. With Republicans holding super majorities in the Senate (39-11) and House (71-29), the lop-sided maps were essentially a fait accompli.

How uncompetitive are these new maps? George Washington University political scientist Christopher Warshaw said that while Republicans carry about 60% of the vote, they will likely win between 70 and 80% of General Assembly seats. Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project analysis of the 159 congressional, House and Senate districts, just 11 will be competitive.

Look no further than Indiana’s nine congressional districts, which Republicans now carry 7-2. I’ve drawn on analysis from the Cook Political Report’s 2020 Partisan Index, FiveThirtyEight and IUPUI graduate student Nick Roberts. The new maps appear to set Indiana up for a second consecutive decade where no incumbent loses an election.

Here’s a district by district breakdown:

1st CD: This is the one nominally competitive district coming in at D+7 by FiveThirtyEight (which is outside the normal 5% competitiveness threshold). The 2020 Cook Partisan Index had this as a D+8 district. Freshman U.S. Rep. Frank J. Mrvan looks nominally safe.

2nd CD: The Cook Partisan Index rated the 2020 2nd as a R+11 district (Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 58.9% t0 35.9% in 2016). FiveThirtyEight puts it a R+26 with the new maps. Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski entered this seat in 2012 after narrowly losing to Democrat Joe Donnelly in 2010. It appears out of reach for Democrats now.

3rd CD: FiveThirtyEight rates U.S. Rep. Jim Banks’ new district at R+34. According to the 2020 Cook Partisan Index, the old district was R+18.

4th CD: FiveThirtyEight has the new 4th represented by Rep. Jim Baird at R+33, compared to R+17 in the 2020 Cook Partisan Index.

5th CD: Republicans shored up this formerly “purple” district that had been R+9 in the 2020 Cook Partisan Index. FiveThirtyEight has the new district at R+22 as the more Democratic northern part of Indianapolis was shunted off to the new very blue 7th CD. According to Roberts, in 2020 Trump defeated Biden 50-48% while Trump carries the new 5th CD 57-41%. Rep. Victoria Spartz defeated Democrat Christina Hale by 4% in 2020. Hale is now in the 7th CD. Former legislator Melanie Wright told the Anderson Herald Bulletin  she would challenge Spartz, saying, “Just because people look at it and think that it might not be doable, I can’t let that stop me from getting a moderate message out there.”

6th CD: FiveThirtyEight has the new district at R+37 while the Cook Partisan Index had the old 6th at R+18. Roberts data has Trump winning the old 6th by a 69-29% margin, and 65% to 33% in the new. U.S. Rep. Greg Pence won’t have to break a sweat, attend a debate or a town hall to keep his grip.

7th CD: If you want to know how the seven Republican CDs have become even more uncompetitive, look no further than U.S. Rep. André Carson’s new 7th CD, which is now D+37, according to FiveThirtyEight. It was D+11 in the 2020 Cook Partisan Index, with Clinton carrying it 58.2% to Trump’s 35.7% in 2016. Roberts data had Biden winning the old version with 63% in 2020 and the new district with 70%.

8th CD: FiveThirtyEight rates the former “bloody 8th” at R+36, meaning U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon will be able to retire later this decade undefeated. It had been R+15 in the 2020 Cook Partisan Index.

9th CD: According to FiveThirtyEight, the 9th is now a R+30 district, compared to R+13 in the 2020 Cook Partisan Index. Trump defeated Clinton 60.8% to 34% in 2020 and Roberts has Trump carrying the new 9th CD with 63%. Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth looks safe in 2022 but has said he is self-term limited as of 2024.

State Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, made this clear on last week when he said of the bill he sponsored, “We were striving to follow legal requirements. Compactness and communities of interests were goals. Competitiveness is not a legal requirement.”

So potential challengers are going to have to embrace the “Wright” message, which is run to bring the debate to your community, your district. Perhaps lightning strikes as it did for Sen. Walker.

 

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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