WASHINGTON — Michele Bachmann now lives in the 4th Congressional District, but she’ll run for re-election in the newly-open 6th.
That’s the predominant headline the day after a state court panel redrew Minnesota’s congressional district boundaries, but it’s basically the only one. The new map is what’s called a “least-change” map, and it means just that: the five-member court panel adjusted the district lines just enough to make the populations congruent and shied away from controversial measures like pitting lawmakers against one another or carving out favorable demographics for one incumbent or another.
“Our adoption of a least-change congressional plan is consistent with the legal principles governing a judicially created redistricting plan and with the urgings of numerous citizens throughout Minnesota who participated in the public hearing-andcomment process,” they wrote in their court order.
That means lawmakers and political watchers on both sides of the aisle are largely happy. It also means there’s not too much to say about the end product. With no residency requirement barring Bachmann from living in one district and representing another, she’s free to live in Rep. Betty McCollum’s highly liberal 4th District and run for office in the more conservative 6th, defusing one of the only potentially potent storylines in the whole congressional redistricting saga.
So beyond the residual Bachmann-McCollum drama, we have a Congressional map where the boundaries changed very little and the political make-up of the districts followed suit. Here’s what they look like:
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz’s 1st Congressional District lost Pipestone, Murray and half of Cottonwood counties to the rural 7th District and traded Wabasha County to the 2nd District for LeSueur and most of Rice. The district has always leaned slightly Republican, with a Partisan Voting Index rating of Republican+1. That doesn’t change under the new map.
State Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca is Mankato-based Walz’s top Republican challenger.
In terms of both area and politics, no district changed more than the 2nd. In addition to LeSueur and Rice Counties, the district lost conservative Carver County to the 3rd and 6th and picked up parts of the old 4th District, primarily West St. Paul and parts of South St. Paul, an area that mostly sided with Democrats in the Republican wave year of 2010.
Thus, Republican Rep. John Kline saw his comfortably conservative district (a GOP+4, where more than half of the voting population voted for John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004 and re-elected him to Congress with 63 percent of the vote in 2010) move a bit toward the middle, but not enough to bring pause to Republicans there.
“Congressman Kline felt it was a fair map,” spokesman Troy Young said. “Currently the 2nd District is a swing district. It leans Republican, and after the changes, it continues to be a swing district that leans Republican.”
Democrats have yet to field a candidate to challenge Kline.
Two-term Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen is the big redistricting winner. His third district now covers conservative chunks of eastern Carver County and it’s rated GOP+2, a two-point improvement over its current rating. The district also shed a small pocket of Democratic voters from the northeastern metro area, which moved into the 5th, solidifying the district even more for Paulsen.
Between the new district lines and Paulsen’s fundraising skill (he had over $1 million in the bank at the end of 2011), the Democrats looking to challenge him are in for an uphill battle.
In adding Washington county, including Bachmann’s Stillwater, Democrat Betty McCollum’s district gained a handful of new conservative voters, but she’s still one of the safest incumbents in the delegation — Barack Obama beat John McCain by more than 27 points in the new 4th in 2008, only about 3 points less than his margin of victory in the old district.
The court panel did, of course, pair Bachmann and McCollum, but with an open 6th, an actual head-to-head match-up between the two was never going to happen.
“For the last two weeks I’ve been letting it known to people that wherever the heart of the 6th district would be, that’s where I would be running for re-election,” Bachmann said Tuesday. “I would have loved to continue representing people of central Washington County. I would have loved to have done that, but the lines were drawn otherwise and I look very much forward to representing the people of the newly-configured Sixth Congressional District.”
McCollum has one Republican challenger, Daniel Flood.
The solidly Democratic 5th District ate into a bit of the old 3rd District, mainly a few square miles in Edina, Minnetonka and Brooklyn Center. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison’s new Edina voters, who are among the wealthiest in the state and favored Republicans in 2010, likely won’t be too happy with their new lawmaker, the head of Congress’s Progressive Caucus, but in a district that voted for Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 margin in 2008, there’s likely very little they can do about it.
The new 6th is, as we’ve established, technically an open seat, but since lawmakers are not required to live in the district they represent (only the state), Bachmann will run for re-election here in 2012.
The new district favors Republicans more than the old one. The district curls around the Twin Cities metropolitan area and now includes rural Carver County, a conservative stronghold. Beyond St. Cloud, the last liberal holdout in the district, Republican congressional candidates should have an easy go at it in the 6th, which is now the most conservative district in the state.
The biggest question now is whether the DFL will be able to find a capable challenger to take on Bachmann. None have yet declared their candidacy, but with the map now set, that should theoretically change soon.
The 7th remains a Republican-leaning district (in fact, it’s rated as the second-most Republican district in the state), and perhaps the only Democrat that can consistently win here is its current incumbent, moderate Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson.
The 7th picked up a few rural counties in southern Minnesota and stole some cities from both the 6th and the 8th, but the partisan make-up of the district didn’t change dramatically: more than 50 percent of voters cast ballots for McCain in 2008 and Bush in 2004.
Nationally, Republicans say they still hope to target Peterson in November. In 2010, he beat his current Republican challenger, Lee Byberg, by more than 17 points.
Rep. Chip Cravaack remains in the highly competitive 8th Congressional District even though two proposed maps would have moved him into safer territory: one created two parallel horizontal districts across northern Minnesota, putting him in the more conservative one, while the other pitted Bachmann against McCollum and gave Cravaack the safe 6th.
Both proposals were non-starters for a court panel looking to change the map as little as possible, and Cravaack and his political team seemed to realize that, actively campaigning across his current district ahead of the redistricting announcement. Earlier this month, he told the Mesabi Daily News that he disagreed with the Republican proposal to move him out of the district, which continues to lean to Democratic and will be the single biggest battleground in Minnesota politics this fall.
“With this new map, I will remain focused on improving the climate for job creation for Minnesotans and will continue to work on common-sense solutions to the problems facing the country,” Cravaack said in a statement through his campaign manager.
Gregg Peppin, a Republican redistricting analyst, said the new map wasn’t going to dramatically alter the state of the race in the 8th District, where three DFLers are looking to challenge Cravaack.
“Redistricting is not a game changer one way or another for the 8th Congressional District,” he said.
In the end, the new map technically favors Republicans in five Congressional Districts (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th) and Democrats in the rest, but three incumbents (Democrats Walz and Peterson and Republican Cravaack) represent areas that lean toward the opposing party. Nationally, the parties hope to make those mismatched districts battlegrounds in November. At this point, only two races — the 1st and 8th — are expected to be at all competitive, but they’re expected to be vigorously fought, especially the 8th, where national advertising dollars have already begun pouring in.
There are 257 days until Election Day. With the board now set, the games can really begin.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry