With the release of the highly-anticipated proposed congressional redistricting map, election forecasters are fast at work hammering out hot takes on how the changes will impact the 2022 midterms. However, we can easily declare a winner now: Texas incumbents.
Instead of maximizing potential R-pickups by creating more districts in which Republican candidates could potentially be competitive, GOP leadership has decided to cede the suburbs to the Democrats and focus on shoring up safe red districts for lazy incumbents.
Every ten years after the census, the political maps have to be adjusted to account for changes and shifts in population. As a result of Texas’ explosive growth over the last decade, the Lone Star State will actually be gaining two congressional seats, bringing the state’s congressional delegation up to 38.
District maps are drawn and voted on by the state legislature, and it is no surprise that the party in power always draws the lines to favor themselves. It’s human nature: Democrats do it in blue states like Illinois and Oregon, Republicans do it in red states like Texas.
However, what is most notable about the GOP’s proposed map for Texas is that it actually does not maximize the potential number of seats in which Republican candidates could gain or be competitive.
Based on the current maps, there are two suburban Democrats representing toss up seats that Republicans stood a decent chance of re-taking in 2022, especially if the midterms shake up to be a favorable year for the GOP: Lizzie Fletcher’s CD-07 in Houston, and Collin Allred’s CD-32 in Dallas. Under the current maps, Fletcher’s district is currently D+1, and Allred’s is D+2. Both seats could conceivably have been flipped by the right GOP candidates, especially if more Republican neighborhoods had been added to both districts through redistricting. Instead, mapmakers decided to do the opposite.
Under the new maps, Fletcher’s 7th District becomes a safe D+27 seat, while Allred will now represent a deep blue D+25 32nd District. Why? So Republican incumbents Michael McCaul CD-10, Dan Crenshaw CD-02, and Trey Nehls CD-22 can have their districts redrawn into impregnable Republican strongholds. McCaul, who after easily coasting to re-election for years until the recent collapse of GOP support in the suburbs, has narrowly survived a couple close calls the couple cycles. His new district will be R+24. Crenshaw’s CD-02 will go from R+9 to R+30. Nehls will trade a R+8 seat for one that is R+24. A brand new (safely red) CD-38 will be created in western Harris county, for which former CD-07 challenger Wesley Hunt promptly announced his candidacy.
The same story is being played out across the suburbs of all the state’s major cities. Democrat neighborhoods in the Dallas suburbs were packed into Allred’s now deep blue district in order to create safe red districts where incumbents Beth Van Duyne, Van Taylor, and Jake Ellzey can easily coast to re-election. A brand new deep blue CD-37 will be created deep in the heart of Austin so GOP incumbents John Carter, Michael McCaul, and Chip Roy can have safe districts.
Mapmakers even decided to largely forgo the chance to be competitive in the Rio Grande Valley, where Republican gains among Latinos in South Texas have buoyed hopes of flipping a couple congressional seats. Instead, two of South Texas’ potentially competitive districts are actually being made more Democratic, leaving CD-15 as the only competitive seat in the entire state.
The takeaway is clear: Republicans have given up on fighting for the suburbs. Instead of drawing more lean-Republican districts in which Republicans could be competitive, GOP leadership opted to give incumbents seats where they will not have to actually campaign in the general election. Instead of trying to maximize the potential for GOP gains in 2022, the ratio of R to D seats in Texas will largely remain the same: from 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 24 very safe Republican seats and 13 very safe Democrat seats (with one toss up).
Republicans have chosen the safer path of retrenchment, retreat, and surrender. The GOP will safely retain a majority of the state’s congressional delegation for the next decade, while doing nothing to stop the suburbs’ from shifting blue all around them.
To be sure, drawing more lean-R seats rather than shoring up existing R seats would have carried some risk. For one, it would require Republican candidates to stop saying stupid and insane things that turn off educated suburbanites. It would require Republicans to have better candidates and better messaging.
But perhaps most horrifyingly for indolent GOP incumbents, a more aggressive strategy would require dead weight, useless pieces of congressional furniture like Michael McCaul and John Carter to get off their lazy duffs and actually do the hard work of campaigning and making the case to voters why they should be re-elected.
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