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Why won't Democrats win the House? Blame gerrymandering.

The Gerrymandered Democrats
The political pros say Republicans will retain control of the U.S. House today, despite a mediocre economy and stock market. If that happens, Democrats should take credit for gerrymandering themselves right out of a competitive election year.

We warned Democrats about this last November ("The Gerrymander Scandal"), and we've long deplored the practice of incumbents in both parties protecting their jobs by carving out safe Congressional seats. But now that the results are sinking in, the Beltway press corps is finally paying attention. Even the head-in-sand liberals on CNN's "Capital Gang" are suddenly blaming the likely Democratic defeat on redistricting, which is certainly less painful than blaming Democratic ideas. But they have a point, however late they are to notice.

Going into today's vote, there were almost as many competitive Senate as House races. About 10 of 33 Senate contests were toss-ups, while only 15 of 435 House seats could still go either way. With elections every two years, the House was designed to be the body of government most responsive to the public. But it is now far more insulated from public opinion than is the Senate, because no one has yet found a way to gerrymander a state.

Gerrymanders are hardly new, but it used to be that politicians had to guess how to draw district lines every 10 years. Nowadays they use computer databases that can account for voter tendencies down to the city block. Nowadays, too, politicians tend to be careerists who prize incumbency above even partisanship. So rather than go for broke every decade by creating many competitive seats, their first priority is to protect themselves.
This is the box canyon Democrats have walked into this year. In California, Texas, New York and Illinois, accounting for nearly one-third of all House seats, they conspired with GOP incumbents to freeze the status quo. The result is that in America's largest state of California, which is increasingly Democratic, only one of 53 House races is even competitive, and that one only because Gary Condit became famous. Republicans in the state still can't believe their good luck.

In Illinois, meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and senior Democrat William Lipinski worked out a cozy little deal that made 18 of the state's 19 districts safe for incumbents. One beneficiary is freshman Republican Tim Johnson, who won in 2000 with only 53%. But that was before a gerrymander gave his district a bizarre 100-mile fishhook along the Indiana border that piled up GOP voters (see map nearby). Mr. Johnson's 2000 opponent wanted a rematch but, not being a masochist, he dropped out as soon as the new lines were drawn. Mr. Johnson is now so secure in his incumbency that he's repudiated his pledge to limit himself to three terms.

As for the only competitive House seat in Illinois, Republican John Shimkus is beating Democratic incumbent David Phelps. So in a state in which Democrats are likely to win the governorship in a blowout, they will probably lose a seat in the House this year.

Why good-government liberals aren't appalled by this is beyond us. They claim to prize "diversity," especially on race, but this year's gerrymanders have helped to protect old white male Democrats. That's especially true in Texas, where a Democratic state judge issued a balanced, competitive plan, only to elicit howls of outrage from Congressman Martin Frost, a Member of the Democratic leadership. The judge reversed himself and crafted a plan that left the state without a single competitive House race this year. Republicans will pick up the state's two new House seats, but ambitious Latinos who want to represent their fast-growing population will have to wait.
We could cheer this Democratic self-immolation, except that it's bad for democracy. Goo-goo liberals destroy entire forests bemoaning the lack of voter turnout, but why vote if the race is already over? Pre-fixed elections strike us as a far greater cause of voter cynicism than "negative ads" or "campaign finance reform" or the other windmills that the goo-goos usually tilt at.

One alternative is the example of Iowa, which has only five House seats but two competitive races this year. A pair of GOP incumbents, including 26-year veteran Jim Leach, are in dogfights because in Iowa a non-partisan legislative service bureau draws district lines. We are often suspicious of such bodies, but today's incumbent protection is so extreme that something has to be done.

America's goo-goo liberals awake to political problems only when they hurt Democrats, as they finally did after the independent counsel law was used against Bill Clinton. So perhaps if House Democrats go down to gerrymandered defeat today, the left will find a new cause. Think of it this way: The modern gerrymander may keep Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader for 10 more years.
we frauds 05.Nov.2002 01:31

the bandwagon riders

"We warned Democrats about this last November"

How many Patrick Batemans are there?