By Aaron Blake
This is the 10th in an occasional series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it "Mapping the Future". The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Pennsylvania. (And make sure to check out the first nine installments: Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Nevada and Virginia)
Pennsylvania Republicans got greedy a decade ago when they drew new congressional districts -- and it came back to bite them as they watched a number of GOP-held seat go Democratic between 2002 and 2010.
The question is, will they be so aggressive again?
"Nobody has expressed any desire to get greedy," said one Republican close to the state's redistricting process. "2001 taught us a good lesson: You draw these districts marginally and you open yourself up to changing demographics."
For the second straight redistricting cycle, Republicans control the state legislature and governor's mansion and will be able to draw the new congressional district lines. Last time, in 2001, they tried to create a map on which they thought they could control as many as 13 or 14 of the state's 19 congressional districts.
But because they wanted to win so many seats, they left too many of their incumbents vulnerable, and by the 2008 election, Republicans controlled only seven of the 19 districts.
Big wins in 2010 mean Republicans are back on top and hold 12 districts in the Keystone State. But some Republicans say the lessons of 2001 have been learned, and priority number one in the 2011 round of redistricting will be to make sure their members are as safe as they can be.
Others, though, say it's time to go big again and that Republicans have a legitimate chance to hold more than just 12 seats. It's one of many choices that will be made in the coming months on a map that is very competitive right now.
Pennsylvania is losing one district this year, and there are two obvious options for Republicans as far as cutting down to 18 districts.
One is to draw Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the same district in western Pennsylvania. The other is to try and dismantle Rep. Tim Holden's (D-Pa.) 17th district by dividing it amongst nearby Republicans.
The first option seems to be the more likely one for several reasons.
One is that the Pittsburgh area, where Altmire and Critz represent, has experienced more population loss than the rest of the state and would be easier to cut from.
The other is that Republicans tried to draw Holden out of Congress once before -- in 2001-- and it backfired. He beat Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.) in the 2002 election and still holds a Republican-leaning district to this day -- one of the few Democrats who can say that.
That 2001 misfire is the cautionary tale that looms over this year's redistricting process. While there are arguably still ways to draw 13 or 14 Republican-leaning districts in Pennsylvania, many of them would lean so slightly toward Republicans that they would be susceptible to flipping Democratic in a bad year (read: 2006 and 2008).
An un-greedy Republican map would look something like this: