Salena Zito

When Pennsylvania lawmakers begin the complicated task of redrawing congressional district lines to reflect changes in population, the process may be just a little less dramatic than usual.

“It’s the first time since the 1930 U.S. Census that Pennsylvania will only lose only one seat,” said Jeff Brauer, a U.S. history professor at Keystone College. “Typically we lose two or more House seats.”

Since 1930, Pennsylvania's share of congressional seats has dropped from 36 to 19.

The Republicans’ take-over last month in Harrisburg – voters elected one as governor along with GOP majorities in the state Senate and House – means they will control the redistricting process.

Every step of the process will be controlled by Republicans, a direct consequence of the midterm elections, said Bert Rockman, a Purdue University political science professor.

“Losing seats is much more dramatic than gaining seats since that almost guarantees, sans a retirement, that incumbents will be forced to run against each other and large groups of constituents will have new representatives,” said Brauer.

Two Democrats who may be in trouble are U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire of McCandless and freshman U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown, who succeeded the late John Murtha.

Both men represent swing districts with large pools of registered Democrats who tend to be more conservative. Republican John McCain won both districts during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Altmire insists he is not going to worry about that. “Right now we have far greater concerns, like job creation and reducing the deficit, than worrying about what will happen basically a year from now,” he said.

Critz, a former aide to Murtha who won a full term in November, said he plans to run again in 2012, even if he must face Altmire.

Critz is candid enough to admit that, with a few days more of politicking by his opponent, he likely would have lost his seat. “I was lucky,” he said.

In 2002, the Republican-controlled state legislature developed a redistricting plan that pitted Murtha against Democrat Rep. Frank Mascara of Washington County in a newly drawn 12th Congressional District. Murtha won.

Altmire isn’t ready to speculate about running against a fellow Democrat: “It is way too early to talk about that.”

Elections have consequences. Partisan gerrymandering is perfectly legal and constitutional, and it is a consequence of electoral victories. Even though Pennsylvania Democrats have a 1.2 million-voter registration advantage over Republicans, the state’s Republicans will reshape the map to their advantage because they won the election.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.