Last year, the conventional political wisdom went like this: Republicans, through a combination of population increase and gerrymandering, were poised to pick up upwards of a dozen US House seats in 2022 from redistricting alone. Democrats, after all, only have a five-seat majority in the House, and Republicans could effectively ensure control of the chamber before a single midterm election ballot was cast.
But it hasn’t turned out that way.
On Wednesday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster became the 28th governor in the country to sign into law his state’s redistricting plan. Not much changed there. The same makeup of a 6-to-1 Republican advantage remains, though one Republican district became a bit more Republican.
Elsewhere in the country, things were less predictable as the once-in-a-decade rewriting of US House maps played out. A plan that was approved by an entirely Republican Ohio state government that would have more aggressively helped Republicans was rejected by the court and now redistricting there remains in limbo. The same happened in North Carolina, where Republicans were expected to pick up as many as three seats.
In Alabama, three Republican federal judges (two appointed by Trump) threw out a map crafted by the Republican-dominated Legislature there because it did not proportionally carve out enough Black districts.
While the list of particulars of many states can go on, the big story is that Democrats, who largely favored nonpartisan commissions to draw lines, began to act more like Republicans.
Republicans were set to gain at least five seats just from population shifts away from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. But efforts in Democratic-led states like Illinois and California have eliminated some of those gains.
What’s left a little over halfway into the redistricting process is that, right now, the central premise all last year turned out not to be true: Republicans won’t win the US House after the midterm elections based on the redistricting process.
The two states to watch now are New York (controlled by Democrats) and Florida (controlled by Republicans). Neither has completed their maps yet and both are large enough to have a lot of room to experiment. In New York, the process is getting especially intense this week as the Legislature attempts to take over the process from a commission, though the latest talk is that there is a new emphasis on preserving incumbents versus going for the partisan jugular.
Here in New England, Massachusetts and Maine have finished redrawing lines for the US House, though Vermont, with only one House member, has no need to go through that process. Massachusetts didn’t have any dramatic changes to its nine-district map and when they complete their process, Connecticut and Rhode Island are expected to see no partisan changes.
The most interesting states in the region are Maine and New Hampshire, which both have just two districts. Maine is controlled by Democrats, but lawmakers didn’t really change the lines dramatically even though there was good reason to in purely political terms.
Maine’s southern First District heavily favors Democrats, while the northern Second District is a swing district that voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Instead of siphoning off a good chunk of the southern Democratic areas to erode Republican voting power in the north, lawmakers only did so slightly.
The opposite is true with the maps under discussion in New Hampshire. There, Republicans control the process entirely, and State House leaders made an aggressive gerrymander that redrew two swing seats currently held by Democrats and made one deeply Democratic and the other a solidly Republican seat.
Yet, Republican Governor Chris Sununu said he wouldn’t sign that map and told his own party’s leaders to go back to the drawing board.
Make no mistake: Republicans are still poised to win back the US House this year. But instead of that being simply because of redistricting, it is lining up to be about poor polling numbers for Democratic President Joe Biden and nearly 30 Democratic incumbents not running for reelection.
That said, more than a dozen states still need to weigh in, along with the courts.