Salena Zito

Add redistricting as another drag on Democrats in their march to win back the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

   It’s hard to recruit new House candidates, or to fund-raise for incumbents, if you don’t know what the districts will look like.

   Redistricting, or the redrawing of a state’s House districts, follows reapportionment, which allocates congressional seats to the states. The latter occurred in December, when the Census Bureau released state population totals and revealed how many House seats (and electoral college votes) each state will have for the next decade.

   “Redistricting is a multi-year nerd fest for politicians, pundits, academics, lawyers, demographers, cartographers, and now even some hobbyists,” said Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report.

   This time, “12 House seats switched states, with ten states losing seats and eight states gaining,” said Wasserman, author of a nerdy little book called “Better Know a District.”

   And unlike some democracies, where redistricting is a simple procedure, in America it can be a highly contentious affair in which politicians "gerrymander" boundaries for partisan and personal advantage, Wasserman explains.

   His book is awash in statistics, scenarios and maps. It is not just for the political junkie to run home and open, like a kid with the Sears Christmas catalog; House expert Isaac Wood of the University of Virginia Center for Politics definitely recommends it for even the casual reader.

   The power of redistricting rests with state legislatures. Thanks to the 2010 midterm election, Republicans hold more than 50 percent of the states’ legislative seats, giving them the best position to cut and paste lines since 1928.

   In the next two or three election cycles, ten to 20 House seats likely will remain in GOP hands or flip from Democrats as a result of last year’s historic power switch.

   Despite unions pushing for recall elections of GOP state senators in Wisconsin, Republicans there have skirted a crisis and will finish redistricting ahead of any potential statehouse switch.

   All is not rosy for the GOP, however.

   In Illinois, which will lose one U.S. House seat, Democrats have carved up six Republican districts and hope to elect five new Democrats. In California, a new “citizen-run” process could turn three or four Republican-leaning seats into opportunities for Democrats.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.