Donald Lambro

It is often said of our representative system of government that the voters choose their senators while the House chooses its voters.

The Republicans, with the help of some sophisticated computer technology and the lastest census data, will do just that next year by redrawing congressional-district lines that could give their party a net gain of anywhere from three to 15 GOP House seats in 2012.

The political art of reshaping House-district boundaries began last week after the 2010 census figures showed that close to a dozen seats will be shifting mostly from the heavily Democratic Northern states to the more Republican-leaning South and West.

Under the reapportionment process to ensure that congressional districts contain roughly the same number of people, the population shift means that New York and Ohio will lose two seats each, and Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Iowa and Louisiana will each lose one seat.

Gaining House seats are Texas (four) and Florida (two), with Arizona, Nevada, Utah, South Carolina, Georgia and Washington gaining one each.

How the congressional-district lines are drawn depends on who controls the governorships and legislatures in each state, and the GOP's statehouse victories last month put them squarely in charge of five of the eight states that are gaining seats

Republicans, for example, are in control of the state governments in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where incumbent Democrats like Cleveland Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the left-wing firebrand, is in danger of losing his seat. Democrats are in control of only two of the 10 states losing seats: Massachusetts and Illinois. In New York, Republicans won control of the state Senate, which will likely result in the elimination of one seat from each party.

The congressional power shift from the North to the South and West has been going on for quite some time. The New York House delegation has shrunk from 45 in the 1940s to 27 under the 2010 census. Florida's delegation is expanding from six House members in the 1940s to 27 in 2012.

Overall, Republicans will be in control of House redistricting in 196 districts, or four times the 49 districts Democrats control, according to House elections analyst David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report. However, Wasserman thinks Republicans will be more focused on redrawing congressional-district lines to lock in the 63-seat gains won in 2010 than "creating new opportunities" in the 2012 elections.

Even so, the population shifts open up a number of opportunities to add some new "safe" seats to the GOP's forces, and a number of Republican strategists are already testing boundary-line changes -- precinct by precinct, street by street -- on computer models that take full advantage of the new census data.

"The Republicans are going to have their hand on the computer mouse, and when you have your hand on the computer mouse, you can change a district from a D to an R," Kimball W. Brace, president of Election Data Services, told the New York Times.

But the net House gains the Republicans hope to achieve under redistricting and reapportionment may pale to the gains they may make in the Senate in 2012.

The reason: 23 Democratic senators -- many of whom are on the endangered list -- will be up for re-election, compared to a mere 10 Republicans, most of whom are considered safe. Among them:

-- Claire McCaskill of Missouri: A down-the-line vote for the entire Obama agenda, she won her seat in a 49.6 percent squeaker in 2006. This month, a Democratic Public Policy Polling survey showed her approval rating at a dismal 43 percent. Former Sen Jim Talent is considering a rematch.

-- Sherrod Brown of Ohio: After last month's Democratic blood bath, with the GOP winning the Senate and governorship races and a handful of House seats, Brown is in trouble. He's a knee-jerk liberal vote for Obama's agenda, and the PPP poll shows just 45 percent would vote to re-elect him now.

-- Jim Webb of Virginia: Republicans are back in charge of this conservative state, and Webb, who won his seat in an upset in 2006 by a margin of 0.6 percent, will have to defend a pile of big-spending liberal votes, beginning with Obamacare. Former Sen. George Allen is weighing a rematch.

-- Jon Tester of Montana: Tester won his first term by just 3,500 votes with strong liberal netroots support, but the left has turned against him bitterly. Jean Lemire Dahlman, the state's Democratic national committee chair, says, "He's alienated his base in the progressive Democratic circles." GOP leaders see this seat as "a strong pickup."

The Democrats enter the 2012 presidential election cycle with the certain prospect of losing a clutch of House seats, even before any ballots have been cast, and nearly half-a-dozen freshmen senators are on the endangered candidate's list.

But that's only half of their troubles. This time they will be on the same ballot with Barack Obama.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.