2016 Frontrunners Diverge on Redistricting

Posted March 20, 2012 at 6:44pm

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are considered Democratic frontrunners for a 2016 presidential bid.

But the way both men handled this cycle’s prickly process of Congressional redistricting in their respective states is already being discussed as an early differentiating factor.

Among Democrats hoping to take back the House in November and many New York Members, there is disappointment with the way Cuomo handled the Empire State’s federal redistricting process. And if Cuomo makes a bid for the presidency in 2016, they won’t forget that he didn’t use his considerable political capital to help push through a more favorable and partisan map for Democrats, but instead let a court draw the lines.

“There will be national electeds who remember that he, at the height of his power, had the ability to step in and get a map done [for Democrats] and didn’t,” one New York Democratic operative said with more than a touch of frustration.

Cuomo, who already has a particularly cool relationship with New York lawmakers on Capitol Hill, didn’t help his cause.

“He definitely annoyed some folks,” said a Capitol Hill aide for a Democratic Member. “In terms of his relationship to Washington, it doesn’t help.”

The aide noted that Cuomo, unlike his predecessors, has been noticeably absent from the nation’s capital since he took office in 2011.

“He’s made a strategic decision that he doesn’t go to D.C.,” the aide said. “He wants to wait to travel until he’s an announced candidate for president or right before.”

That stands in stark contrast to O’Malley, whose proximity to the nation’s capital and role as the head of the Democratic Governors Association puts him in D.C. regularly. He met one-on-one with every Member of his state’s Congressional delegation to discuss redistricting, something Cuomo didn’t do. O’Malley signed a map into law in October that may have angered some Members but helped Democratic prospects this year and beyond. Democrats are likely to pick up the seat held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) in November.

“O’Malley is a pretty good politician, and he wants to make sure everyone in the state of Maryland, if he leaves to do something else, remembers him positively,” a Maryland Democratic strategist said. “The last thing on earth that you want to do is have your teammates in Maryland scream that you screwed them over.”

A federal court drew a new Empire State Congressional map after the split Legislature remained deadlocked for a year on drawing new lines with two fewer districts. That court’s map did nothing to shore up vulnerable Democratic Members — such as Reps. Tim Bishop and Bill Owens — and made Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul’s re-election climb very steep. The districts of Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D), who is retiring, and Rep. Bob Turner (R), who is running for Senate, were eliminated.

While there are considerable pickup opportunities for Democrats under the court’s map and no staunchly safe Republican seats, there are a number of ways a map drawn by the Democratic-controlled state Assembly and pushed through the Republican-held state Senate by Cuomo could have helped Democrats come away from the 2012 elections with more seats.

“Overall, if you’re the Republicans, you feel pretty good. Because it’s almost the incumbency protection program, the way it worked up,” one upstate Democratic consultant said about the map. “They’ve slow-rolled the process so long, the real people who could really knock off” GOP incumbents will probably wait for another cycle, the consultant said, noting a few exceptions where campaigns have been under way for months.

National Democrats strongly disagreed.

“The New York maps put every single seat in the state in play,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “There is no such thing as a safe New York Republican.”

Even though Republicans control the state Senate, New York operatives of both parties agreed that Cuomo could have cajoled Republicans in Albany to agree to a Congressional map more favorable to Democrats.

Still, some New York operatives and Members believe Republican intransigence was to blame for the court redraw of the map.

“The story I hear from the Democratic side is that Dean Skelos just wouldn’t give an inch, wouldn’t give an inch on anything,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said, referring to the Republican leader of the state Senate. “They couldn’t agree, so what happens when you can’t agree? You go to the courts.”

An email and a call to a Cuomo spokesman went unreturned today.

Other Democrats, while surprised that the governor didn’t push through a map more favorable to Democrats, saw the sting of his decision fading by 2016, when he could be locked in a battle with O’Malley for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s noteworthy and troubling. But like all things related to redistricting, I sense people’s memories are not that long,” a New York Democratic strategist said. “Yes, some will remember and it does stand in stark contrast to other governors.”

But the source noted that all New York Members will be superdelegates to the 2016 Democratic convention and “what New York Member is not going to be for Cuomo?”

Added one New York City Democratic insider: “Four years is a long time, but New York and Washington are places where people have short attention spans and long memories.”