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Redistricting Battles Spur Wave of Cash

By Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal - October 12, 2010

Republicans and Democrats, hoping to pick up seats in Congress through redistricting, are pouring money and political muscle into statehouse races in about 16 states.

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State Rep. Todd Eachus of Pennsylvania, in a race with Republican candidate Tarah Toohil, sees outside money as an intrusion.

State legislatures will next year redraw congressional districts based on the 2010 census. Cutting out a wealthy suburb or looping in an ethnic neighborhood can turn a district from Republican to Democratic, or vice-versa. If done across the board, redistricting can tip a congressional delegation red or blue for a generation.

The key national organizations seeking to influence state elections will spend about $200 million this year, double what they spent in 2006, the most recent comparable contest.

The cash is allowing local candidates to adopt tactics more typically used by national politicians: time on cable TV, advanced polling techniques and direct mailings.

All this is playing out in Baraboo, Wis., where a tiny state-house campaign is being bombarded by money and advice from national organizations such as the AFL-CIO labor union, Planned Parenthood and a Republican group run by former White House strategist Edward Gillespie.

The idea that Democrats and Republicans are banking on a win in districts like Wisconsin's 42nd "is a pretty humbling thought, for sure," said Fred Clark, the Democratic incumbent.

Republican and Democratic strategists are focusing on races in states that they believe could eventually swing as many as 25 to 30 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The top targets are Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas.

Depending who draws the map in Texas, as many as four congressional seats could be at stake. Even though the GOP has carried Texas in every presidential election since 1980, the GOP has a scant two-seat majority in its state house.

Other states houses are similarly divided.

In Tennessee, which has been trending Republican in national elections, the GOP has a three-seat majority in the Senate and a single-seat advantage in the House. Democrats have a four-seat majority in the Ohio house, and three in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

In most states, the party that controls state government gets to draw boundaries of congressional districts to favor its interests. Only a handful of states leave the process to an independent commission.

The three main Republican groups that focus on state-wide races plan to spend more than $100 million on the November elections. That's about double the $44 million they spent on state races in 2006.

Groups supporting Democratic candidates in state races will spend about the same amount. The Democratic governors group and the state-legislative entity are on pace to spend a total of $62 million.

"The fortunes of Democratic state legislators are truly the firewall for Democrats this year," said Michael Sargeant, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee's executive director.

The Republican State Leadership Committee created the Redistricting Majority Project, whose sole purpose is "dedicated to keeping or winning Republican control of state legislatures that will have the most impact on Congressional redistricting in 2011." The group is on pace to raise and spend $40 million to help GOP candidates in state races.

The state races can be critical in determining control of Congress.

In 1980, California's congressional delegation was evenly split, 22 Democrats and 21 Republicans. After the 1980 census, which gave the state two additional congressional districts, Democrats took advantage of redistricting to create a huge majority that still endures. The 1982 election produced 28 Democrats and just 17 Republicans.

Texas leaned Democratic since Reconstruction, until Republicans used a statehouse majority won in 2002 to launch a mid-decade redistricting plan.

The result: six additional Republican congressional seats in the 2004 election, which gave the GOP a majority of the state's congressional delegation for the first time since the Civil War.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers have donated a total of $900,000 to the Democratic state legislative group and as well as corps of foot soldiers for door-to-door canvassing. The Republican counterpart draws big donations from business, including $1.6 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Republicans are also using GOPAC, a political action committee founded in the 1970s, to wade into state races. GOPAC has donated about $600,000 to roughly 250 candidates in close races around the country, an increase from $150,000 in 2006.

Last week, it donated $100,000 to nine candidates in Pennsylvania, a battleground state. Republican candidate Tarah Toohil, running against the Democratic majority leader in a district south of Wilkes-Barre, had raised less than $20,000 for her campaign. GOPAC's $12,500 donation will help her buy local cable-television ads, she said.

Her opponent sees outside money as an intrusion. "A national right-wing group does not represent the working families of the greater Hazleton area," said Dave Georges, a spokesman for state Rep. Todd Eachus.

The fight is reaching fever pitch at the pinnacle of state government—the governor's mansion.

Voters in 37 states will choose new governors this fall, the most ever in a single year. Governors in most states have to approve redistricting plans, giving them tremendous influence over the redrawing.

Both the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations have raised record amounts of money by telling donors the 2010 races could help decide which party controls Congress for the next decade.

The Republican Governors Association started pouring money into the Wisconsin gubernatorial race before the GOP even had a candidate. It paid for ads critiquing Democratic candidate Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, months before Scott Walker finally won the Republican primary in September.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has about $1 million earmarked just for Wisconsin, more than ever before. "We'll be providing air cover," said Chris Jankowski, the executive director of the RSLC's redistricting project, which relies heavily on television ads.

Democratic activists in Wisconsin, in contrast, are banking on the ground game.

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