Redistricting analysis: Republicans aim for 4 safe seats and shot at a 5th

WASHINGTON — A Republican-proposed redrawing of Minnesota’s congressional districts, released today, would ensconce the four Republicans in Congress and give them a better shot at flipping the seat currently held by Tim Walz.

Most striking on that map is that the two northland districts have gone from being side-by-side verticals to stripes. And in so doing, Republicans move freshman Chip Cravaack into a very GOP-friendly district on the southern stripe, while sending Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson into the northern band, where he’d pick up the Iron Range and Duluth.

Republicans haven’t held a majority of Minnesota’s congressional delegation since the 98th Congress, from 1981-83. After redistricting, the elections of 1982 saw a shift from 5-3 Republican to 5-3 DFL. All but one cycle since then has seen a 5-3 DFL or a 4-4 split, as it is now.

And if this map were approved — admittedly, an unlikely event, because Gov. Mark Dayton is probably going to veto it — it would give them their best shot in 30 years of retaking the congressional delegation.

You can enter your address and find your new district here.

The new congressional redistricting map proposed by the Republican-controlled Minnesota House Committee.
The new congressional redistricting map proposed by the Republican-controlled Minnesota House Committee.

Below is a district-by-district look at the changes the GOP proposes, and what a new congressional map would look like in partisan terms:

8th District Duluth, Arrowhead, Iron Range, northern Red River Valley
For years, Duluth, St. Louis County and the Iron Range had been the DFL heart of a district that hadn’t had a Republican represent it since 1947. Even when Chip Cravaack won here in 2010, it wasn’t that he carried this area, more that he held down Oberstar’s margin and offset it with big wins in the southern, Twin Cities exurbs.

Now, those exurbs are gone to the new 7th, replaced by the Red River Valley and a very moderate congressman from there in the form of Collin Peterson. He’s an original Blue Dog, pro-life (as was Oberstar), yet less willing to support the party line on such major votes as health reform.

This new district would actually run a little left of Peterson, voting for President Obama 56-42 over John McCain. On paper, this district instantly becomes a safe DFL seat for the next 10 years, on par with the Minneapolis-based 5th and St. Paul-based 4th.

7th District — North Branch, St. Cloud, Fergus Falls, Willmar
Republicans had two electoral problems in the north going into redistricting: That Collin Peterson kept winning in a district that has more Republican presidential voters than it does Democrats, and that Chip Cravaack’s district leans Democrat normally and became more unfriendly to him the further north he drove.

The solution? Draw Peterson out of the 7th, and let Cravaack contest a race from the base of his home turf in the Twin Cities exurbs without having to worry about St. Louis County.

This new 7th District runs across the state from North Branch and Center City in the east over to Alexandria, Willmar and Fergus Falls. Most of St. Cloud enters from the old 6th District, adding Democratic voters, but Democrats in the northern Red River Valley are gone now.

The end result is a district without a capital city, where Republicans hold a 5-point registration advantage and where McCain would have beaten Obama 53-45.

Tarryl Clark lives in St. Cloud now, and would be moved into the new 7th. She’s already bought a condo in Duluth in anticipation of running in a district that looks like the old 8th — if this map holds, that becomes a nice summer home by the lake that’s entirely surplus to requirements.

6th District Stillwater, Anoka County, Buffalo
The 6th had been, by voter registration, the most Republican district in Minnesota over the last 10 years, but Michele Bachmann never hit 53 percent of the vote here. Bachmann may be considering a run for president, but if she decides to stay in the House, she’ll find herself running in an even more Republican district.

A district that leaned Republican by about 7 points is now GOP +9, thanks to the district shedding most of St. Cloud to the new 7th, including the house of Bachmann’s 2010 opponent Tarryl Clark.

This new 6th is a horseshoe-shaped district that covers most of the Twin Cities northern suburbs and exurbs, and it will be uniquely difficult for anyone to unseat Bachmann there.

That’s because the major media market covering much of the district is Minneapolis-St. Paul, and it’s extremely expensive to advertise there for a House race because so much of the advertising is wasted outside the district.

Bachmann, the top Republican fundraiser in the House last year, already has got about $2.8 million cash on hand. Again, that’s assuming she doesn’t wind up as the GOP presidential nominee.

Should she wind up leaving the House, any big-name Republican who winds up running to replace her would likely be favored to retain the seat.

5th District Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Fridley
Not much change here, where Democrats are packed into the Minneapolis-based 5th by an almost 3-to-1 margin.

4th District St. Paul, Ramsey County
There are a few changes around the borders of Betty McCollum’s district, but this remains a 2-to-1 Democratic district, headquartered in St. Paul.

3rd District Eden Prairie, Bloomington, Edina, Lake Minnetonka
Rep. Erik Paulsen’s district is one that, in theory, should be competitive every year. However, Republican map makers gave him a little more margin for error here.

McLeod County on the west is a new addition, and that’s Republican territory, but this is still a district based in the western suburbs of Minneapolis.

Republicans hold a 5-point registration advantage in the new 3rd, but this district went for Obama over McCain by 2 points. Still, Paulsen has managed to amp up his margins in the 3rd and is off to a strong fundraising start this year.

2nd District Burnsville, Eagan, Lakeville, Faribault
On paper, the 2nd has been a swing district for some time. And on paper, it remains one.

Showing confidence that John Kline can continue to win in the 2nd without any help, Republicans left Kline’s district as “swingy” as it had been. Republicans hold a slight advantage in voter registration in the new 2nd, although this new district very narrowly voted for Obama over McCain.

The 2nd includes most of the southern Twin Cities suburbs and exurbs, from Sibley and Nicollet counties in the west to Wabash County in the east.

It borders five districts, and corners onto another, and there’s a “four corners” spot just southeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where, on this map, one could stand in two districts, bend forward and put one’s hands in two others. Facing north, that person’s right foot would be in the 2nd.

1st District Rochester, Mankato, Winona, Albert Lea, Marshall
The southern Minnesota 1st, stretching along the southern border from South Dakota to Wisconsin, would remain a key battleground in elections going forward, with less than 2 percentage points separating Democrats and Republicans in voter registration.

The 1st needed to pick up new voters, and it does so along the South Dakota border, running along the southern shore of the Minnesota River up to Marsh Lake and Lac Qui Parle County. The district remains mostly agricultural land and keeps its capital of Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic.

The new 1st would have voted for Obama over McCain 51-47 but could be vulnerable to a well-funded Republican candidate.

There are three safe DFL seats in the GOP’s new map  — the 4th, 5th and 8th — and three safe GOP seats — the 7th, 6th and 3rd. With John Kline in the 2nd, Republicans feel safe there, too.

Republicans could have drawn a 5-3 map without too much difficulty, although they minimized risk on seats they already hold and settled for a 4-4 map. They will, however, walk into every election with at least the mathematical chance of picking up the new 1st.

Note that the age-old GOP idea of combining Minneapolis and St. Paul into one district wasn’t even attempted. But they did try to combine the Red River Valley and Iron Range, a decision that previous courts have balked at making.

There’s no Democratic upside in this map whatsoever — a 5-3 split to the DFL, the most common configuration of the last 30 years, would become only a distant possibility. And to be completely honest, keeping the delegation split at 4-4 with these new lines would be only a little more likely than Dems going 5-3 down.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 05/09/2011 - 04:50 pm.

    Safe seats do not make for good governance. This is a disappointing redistricting designed to make sure the Minnesota delegation is polarized as much as possible. That is not good for the citizens of the state. We will have a purple state represented by people who are very blue or very red.

  2. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 05/09/2011 - 09:45 pm.

    Its not particularly vile. There is none of the atrocious gerrymandering that have been present in other states. Maybe the GOP just did not find it necessary to get what they wanted, but the districts seem at least reasonable on paper.

  3. Submitted by Derek Wallbank on 05/09/2011 - 10:40 pm.


    What I mean there is the natural voter makeup of a district, and whether voters are likely to lean more to Rs or Ds across any given generic race on the ballot.

    Apologies if that wasn’t clear – was using that phrase as a generic stand-in, & I’ll word it differently next time for clarity’s sake.


  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/10/2011 - 11:55 am.

    This is a pipe dream. This whole exercise was one of futility. The Republicans had a chance to do this and slant it a little towards themselves. Democrats are wary of the courts, which are all made up of Republican appointees and would have accepted a slight “devil they knew…” Instead, Republicans drank their party officers’ Kool-Aid and came up with a plan that even non-political people see as nothing but the worst case of gerrymandering in recent history. Whatever the courts propose will be better than this and every Democrat knows it. A complete was of time and precious state resources.

  5. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 05/10/2011 - 12:15 pm.

    It’s so unfair that the Republicans are proposing equal numbers of safe seats when the DFL deserves more seats.

    I’ll betcha that judges will do the same thing.

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