Unfortunately, the report is in the subscription-only Roll Call today, but here’s the dish: Georgia Republican legislators have agreed on a re-redistricting of the state’s Congressional districts that’s basically designed to mess with two Democratic incumbents and shore up a vulnerable Republican incumbent.Freshman Dem Rep. John Barrow’s home county of Clarke (Athens) is moved out of his district, though his staff makes it clear he’ll run for re-election in the 12th anyway. Interestingly enough, the map-drawers managed to actually increase the African-American percentage of the voting age population in the 12th while reducing its Democratic performance level. That’s because Athens (home of the University of Georgia) probably has more white Democrats than any city in the state. Still, it remains a majority-Democratic district, and it’s hard to call Barrow a carpetbagger when the carpet’s actually been pulled out from under him.More serious damage was done to 3d District (central-west central GA) Rep. Jim Marshall, whose district goes from 40% African-American to 33%, with Bush having won 58% of the 2000 vote (the measure of GOP performance since the population figures are from the 2000 census) in the new map as opposed to 52% in the old. Since Marshall waxed Calder Clay, a well-funded and hand-picked GOP challenger in 2004, by a 63-37 margin, Georgia Dems think he should be able to hold the district. But it’s worth noting that the home of former Congressman Mac Collins, who lost the GOP Senate nomination in ’04, has been quietly slipped into Marshall’s district, which may mean Collins is considering a comeback.Meanwhile, 11th District (northwest GA) Rep. Phil Gingrey would get a district radically reshaped in his favor, with the African-American population dropping from 28% to 12%, and Republican performance being boosted from 51% to 64%. This is no huge surprise, since the 11th was originally designed as a very competitive district. And while I wouldn’t want to call the Gentleman from the 11th a wingnut or anything, it is rumored he has to wear special weights to keep him from keeling over on his right side while walking.The lawyers who follow this sort of thing think the Power Grab will probably survive Voting Rights Act scrutiny, because its authors were careful to avoid any direct impact on Georgia’s four African-American House incumbents. But there’s a possible legal hook in the murky doctrine of “minority-influence districts,” wherein the Voting Rights Act can be violated if action is taken to dilute a high if not majority percentage of minority voters, which arguably is the case with both the Marshall and Gingrey remaps.According to Roll Call, some Georgia Dems are reportedly relieved that the re-redistricting was not as drastic as some had feared. Perhaps the threat of retaliation elsewhere had a mitigating effect. But the principle of the thing remains outrageous, and for my money, Democrats should wheel out the lawyers and write up the talking points to fight it.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.