Maryland Redistricting: Bob Ehrlich’s Candidacy Presents Two Challenges for Frank Kratovil

In a recent Congressional Quarterly column on 2001 and future 2011 congressional redistricting, Bob Benenson wrote about how 2010 gubernatorial elections can determine and change the partisan makeup of a particular state’s members of Congress for the next ten years.  Maryland’s 2010 gubernatorial election and 2011 redistricting provide a vivid example of the impact of state elections on congressional futures.

Former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich’s decision to run against sitting Governor Martin O’Malley in 2010 made

Former Governor Bob Ehrlich

Maryland Republicans extremely happy.  Ehrlich, who was voted out after one term in 2006 (a bad year for Republican incumbents nationwide), is seen by Maryland and national Republicans as the best (and only realistic) candidate to win back the Maryland Governor’s mansion.  Weeks before Ehrlich’s announcement when he was simply interviewing staffers for a potential campaign, Stu Rothenberg moved the Maryland Governor’s race from “Currently Safe” to “Narrow Advantage for the Incumbent Party.”  When Ehrlich said that he would run (he officially started his campaign last Wednesday), Cook Political moved the race from “Solid Democrat” to “Lean Democrat.”  Rasmussen had Ehrlich within 6 points of O’Malley before he even began his campaign.  Clearly analysts think that this race could be competitive.  None of this news is good for Freshman Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil (MD-01), who faces two different challenges to his political future:

Challenge One: 2010 Frank Kratovil won in 2008 because the Republican base fractured after a nasty primary and because of the 2008 Democratic wave (mostly because of the fractured GOP).  Kratovil won by less than one percent, but John McCain won the district by 18% (58%-40%).  Kratovil is one of the most targeted Democrats in the country; CQ rates the race a tossup, Cook rates it a tossup, and Rothenberg rates it Tossup/Tilt Republican.

Ehrlich’s candidacy will help the Republican nominee (likely Andy Harris, the 2008 nominee).  Because Ehrlich is running there will be a strong Republican candidate at the top of the ticket which will encourage more Republicans to come out and vote.  Many of these voters in the 1st district will then continue down the ballot and vote for Harris when they otherwise might not have come to the polls.  Ehrlich at the top of the Republican ticket, combined with the lack of Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, makes Kratovil even more vulnerable in 2010.

Maryland's 1st District

Scenario Two: 2011 Redistricting If Kratovil wins reelection in 2010, his district will look different in 2012 because of 2011 congressional redistricting after the Census.  Maryland congressional redistricting might not look very difficult or partisan.  In Maryland, congressional redistricting is done by the state legislature, but the Governor can veto any plan. Maryland is expected to retain its current eight congressional districts.  Currently the districts vary in population (as do districts in every state after ten years): the largest is the 5th (725,592) and the smallest is the 7th (641,251).  However, six of the eight districts are within the range of 660,000 to slightly over 700,000 people.  Six of the eight districts are solidly Democratic (2nd,3rd,4th,5th,7th,8th) and one is solidly Republican (6th).  These factors would make it seem fairly easy to redraw the lines with the proper populations without making either party unhappy.  However, the 1st district could change that and create a fight.

If both Kratovil and O’Malley win in 2010, the Democrats will likely try to make Kratovil’s seat more safely Democratic for the next ten years.  They will likely change the district to go farther south at the northwest corner of the district (into the current 2nd district) or farther west in the middle (into the current 3rd district) to pick up more Democratic voters from these strong Democratic districts.

However, if Kratovil wins, and Ehrlich wins in 2010, Kratovil will be in trouble.  Ehrlich could veto any redistricting plan (like the ones above) that try to make Kratovil’s district more Democratic.  Ideally, Ehrlich would like to make the top of the district go farther west in the north into the solidly Republican 6th district to make the 1st district more Republican.  The Democratic party will likely retain control of the legislature, which will make it difficult for Ehrlich to make the district significantly more Republican.  Both Ehrlich and the legislature would have to compromise.  A reasonable and likely compromise would be to keep the partisan balance of the district similar to its current balance.  The current balance of the district is Republican (McCain won it easily and a Republican had represented it before 2008).  In this scenario, Kratovil would be in serious trouble in 2012 and any future election in the district.

If Democrats want to hold the 1st district in the future (after redistricting), both O’Malley and Kratovil need to win in 2010.  Ehrlich’s candidacy makes it less likely that both will win.  The Republican demographics of the district and Ehrlich’s campaign mean that Kratovil is very unlikely to remain in Congress after 2012 (or even 2010).

*Ehrlich photo courtesy of bcostin

Map of 1st district by the Rose Institute

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