GOP Wary of Repeating Redraw Overreach in Pa.
New Map Months Away, But Behind-the-Scenes Jockeying Is Already Well Under Way
Republicans know they can’t afford to get greedy when they redraw the Pennsylvania Congressional map this time around.
The Keystone State GOP stretched the boundaries of its House districts beyond their limits a decade ago, producing a handful of competitive seats that have traded party hands in the wave elections of recent cycles.
Even though the Pennsylvania Legislature is not expected to consider a new Congressional map until the first couple of weeks of 2012, Members of Congress are already tussling over and lobbying for the shape of their preferred districts.
Republicans’ foremost goal is to shore up the 12 House seats that they already control and to use the state’s single-seat loss to shrink the number of Democrats in the delegation from seven to six.
But at least one Member in a safe Republican district has already shown he’s stingy when it comes to helping out his newer colleagues in more competitive districts.
Rep. Joe Pitts has been stubborn about giving up some of the Republican voters in his district so the competitive suburban Philadelphia districts to his east can be bolstered, according to multiple Pennsylvania sources familiar with the situation. One GOP source close to the process said Pitts is reluctant to give up voters in the southern part of Chester County.
“It’s a problem. He’s got to give,” another Republican source said.
Pitts, the longest-serving GOP Member in the delegation, won re-election by more than 30 points in November — although President Barack Obama came within 3 points of carrying the district in 2008.
Republican Reps. Jim Gerlach and Patrick Meehan occupy competitive districts directly east of Pitts’ district. Obama carried both of their suburban Philadelphia districts by double digits.
Pitts would not say whether he was willing to shed some Republicans to his colleagues when questioned about it Thursday at the Capitol.
“All of us will have some minor changes,” Pitts told Roll Call.
Meehan, the GOP Member who stands to suffer most from Pitts’ frugality, set expectations low for potential changes to his district. He said he expects “marginally a better district for a Republican candidate.”
While Republicans battle over scarce GOP votes in southeastern Pennsylvania, they are mostly in agreement about what will happen on the other side of the state. Southwestern Pennsylvania will lose one House seat in 2012 by moving two Democrats into the same district — most likely Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz.
Republicans have not determined the exact geography of the hybrid district yet. Rep. Bill Shuster (R) is playing an influential role by working closely with state lawmakers on the new map. He has a special interest in the area because it borders his staunchly GOP southern Pennsylvania district.
“It’s a work in progress,” Shuster said. “There’s no map out there. There’s many maps out there. We’re just trying to figure out how to configure everything.”
The small town of Johnstown is the biggest point of contention in the southwestern Pennsylvania map. Critz currently represents the town of fewer than 22,000 people, which is chock full of Democrats and provides a vital fundraising base for the Congressman, just as it did his predecessor, the late Rep. John Murtha (D).
Shuster made it clear that he does not want Johnstown in his district.
“Johnstown’s got a lot a great people, but I’m not really crazy about taking Johnstown because it’s so heavily Democratic,” he said. “For years they voted heavily for a Democrat, Jack Murtha.”
Most recently, Critz’s associates have floated the idea of him challenging Shuster in 2012. Critz even approached Shuster on the House floor to ask him whether he saw the local reports, according to a Republican source.
However, that idea has widely been viewed as a power play by Critz to ensure he gets a favorable district that most likely includes Johnstown.
“He said that because he thinks [Republicans are] going to rejigger the map to make sure he’s OK,” the Republican source said.
Critz and Altmire appear to have entered into a mutual nonaggression pact until the new map is unveiled.
“Mark and I are both well-aware of the rumors and the possibility that we will end up in the same district. We are friends and we are supportive of each other,” Altmire said in a Friday phone interview. “We are not preparing to run against each other. We are not doing stuff in each other’s districts.”
Rep. Tim Murphy (R), who represents the area surrounding the southern Pittsburgh suburbs, will also have to pick up population. As the most moderate Republican in western half of the state, Murphy is lobbying to make sure he does not pick up too many Republicans next year for fear of a primary challenge, according to multiple Pennsylvania sources. But Murphy also does not want to pick up any Democrats and create a competitive district for himself.
Yet as much as the Pennsylvania Members plot and lobby for their future districts, even the most vulnerable GOP Members realize it’s not up to them. The Republican governor and state legislators are in control of their fate — and almost anything can happen before they take up the maps in January.
“It’s ultimately a decision that’s made by the Legislature in Harrisburg,” Meehan said. “I think all of the plotting and planning that’s done here is secondary to whatever they will finally determine. There could be a state Senator who has his own unique interests, and that will change everything.”