As a result of the massive Republican victories last month, Republicans in statehouses all over America have the happy duty of redrawing congressional district lines in time for the 2012 elections based on the 2010 census. In almost half the cases, they will be able to do so without the advice or input of the newly impotent Democratic legislative minorities in their states.
Each of the state legislative leaders is facing the same dilemma as the new year approaches: Do they work to draw lines to protect the many new freshmen Republican members of Congress who defeated Democratic incumbents, often by narrow margins? Or do they work to create more competitive districts for new Republican gains as they undo the Democratic gerrymandering that took place in most states after their party did well in the 2000 elections?
Do they hold their gains or go for more?
We say: Go for more!
The freshmen elected in 2010 will very likely benefit from the same Republican wind at their backs in 2012 as animated their candidacies this year. While we cannot tell the future, we know that Barack Obama is in rough shape and his party is in worse repute. If the Republicans don't blow it in Congress -- a tall order -- the 2012 elections should be good for the Republicans.
Remember: It took the Democrats two elections (2006 and 2008) to fashion their dominant majorities in Congress. It will take Republicans two cycles to complete the work. There is no need to bend and strain to give these freshmen great districts. A little tinkering can give them a decisive edge, and they may not need any at all in 2012.
After that, the new Republican congressmen have a lot less to worry about. After two successful elections, it is very hard to dislodge an incumbent congressman. Unless they face a 2010-style tsunami, they are likely to stay in office for a long time. And if another tsunami comes -- this time with the wind favoring the Democrats -- district lines won't make much difference (see the results of 2010!).
But there are huge opportunities for big gains if we draw the lines right. Fourteen Republican insurgents lost by three points or less in 2010. In 50 districts, the Democrat won with 55 percent of the vote or less. With 12 seats likely to change states and every district up for reapportionment due to population shifts, there is every chance to augment the Republican ranks as long as the newly elected incumbents don't get greedy and try to gobble up all the good neighborhoods.