Ohio Redistricting: The Eastern Districts

The final article in our series on redistricting in Ohio will look at the eastern districts in the state: the 6th, 16th, 17th and 18th. All four seats are currently held by Democrats although that is expected to change by the time redistricting occurs. Below is a map showing those four districts in detail. This post is the fifth in a series. Earlier posts provided an introduction to Ohio’s 2011 redistricting and in-depth looks at congressional districts and redistricting in Ohio’s western, central, and northern regions.

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Ohio's 6th District

Congressman Charlie Wilson

Ohio’s 6th district runs along the Ohio River on the southeast border of the state, from Lawrence and Scioto counties in the south up to Columbiana and Mahoning in the north. The district has a high poverty rate of 17.1% and includes the poorest county in the state, Athens, 32% of whose residents live below the poverty line. The heavy steel and coal producing parts in the north of the district lean more Democratic while the southern counties have been trending more Republican. The 6th has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+2 and voted for McCain by a 50-48 margin in 2008. Incumbent Charlie Wilson is a Democrat who was first elected in 2006 after winning the Democratic nomination through a write-in campaign. He won both the general election in 2006 and in 2008 with 62% of the vote. In the House, he has been fairly moderate and joined the Blue Dog Coalition.

Wilson has raised over $820,000 in this campaign cycle so far, while Republican challenger Bill Johnson has raised almost $500,000. However, Johnson has made it to the second tier “Contender” status in the NRCC’s Young Gun program, meaning that Republicans think he can beat Wilson, and the NRCC now has run ads criticizing Wilson for being too close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Additionally, the conservative group American Action Network may spend significant money in ads against Wilson in the final weeks of the campaign. Though this race is likely to be closer than Wilson’s earlier ones because of national trends favoring Republicans, Wilson is expected to hold onto the district.

The 6th has an estimated population of 609,948, making it one of the least populous districts in the state at about 15.5% below the ideal level. If redistricting is controlled by the Republicans, which would mean two Democratic seats are likely to be eliminated, the 6th is danger of being severely redrawn or split apart entirely. Republicans may combine the more liberal northern parts of the 6th with the 18th district, creating one liberal district where there had been two. Both are fairly underpopulated, and the leftover areas can be given to surrounding and also underpopulated districts including the 17th, 2nd and 7th. The 17th, in the north, is perfectly positioned to take in some of the more liberal parts of the 6th, while the conservative bases in the 2nd and 7th in the south can be strengthened with the more Republican voters from the 6th and 18th.

Ohio's 16th District

Ohio’s 16th congressional district includes Canton, a manufacturing city home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Congressman John Boccieri

The district also encompasses all of Stark and Wayne Counties and most of Ashland and Medina. Southern Wayne County boasts the largest Amish community in the world. The 16th is conservative, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+4. It narrowly voted for McCain in 2008 by a two point margin. The 16th district’s incumbent is Democrat John Boccieri, a first-term congressman who won the seat after 18-term Republican Ralph Regula retired in 2008.

Boccieri has a close race ahead of him in November with Republican Jim Renacci running against him. Renacci has outraised Boccieri $2.2 million to $1.8 million. A poll from late September had Renacci up by 3%, while a Republican poll from August had Renacci up by 14%. The NRCC has been targeting Boccieri since April because of his alleged “flip-flop” on his healthcare vote and more recently for his ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The DCCC has attacked Renacci for not paying his taxes and for his support of a national sales tax. The DCCC and the NRCC both have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in this race already.

With a population of 633,570, the 16th has a fairly average population for Ohio districts but is still considerably below the level it will need to be at after redistricting and the removal of two seats. Given it’s size, it is likely safe for the most part in redistricting and will probably be stretched to the north and east where Democratic seats are more likely to be eliminated from the map.
Ohio's 17th District
Congressman Tim Ryan

The 17th congressional district in northeast Ohio includes parts of Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage and Summit Counties. It is an industrial area and one of the more Democratic districts in the state. The 17th has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+12 and voted for Obama in 2008 by a margin of 62-36. The incumbent in the district is Democrat Tim Ryan, currently serving his fourth term.

Ryan’s challenger in November is Republican Jim Graham, a tea-party conservative who currently works as a pharmacist. Ryan has outraised Graham with over $1 million to Graham’s about $60,000 and Ryan looks certain to continue to hold onto the 17th district for the Democrats.

The 17th has a population of about 610,619, making it 15.4% below the ideal population level. It is the fourth least-populous district in the state. As discussed in the opening article of this series, the 17th saw considerable change in the previous redistricting process. In 2011, it will probably be expanded towards its neighbors, taking in liberal voters from whatever Democratic districts end up being eliminated. As an already solid Democratic hold, Republicans will have few qualms about packing in even more liberal voters.

Ohio's 18th District
Congressman Zack Space

The 18th congressional district covers much of the hill country in the central eastern portion of the state. It is the largest geographic district in the state, spanning all or part of twelve different counties. The district has become fairly conservative in recent years, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+7. In 2008, McCain won the 18th with 53% of the vote to Obama’s 45%. The incumbent for the 18th is Democrat Zack Space, a second term congressman, who has won both of his elections with over 60% of the vote.

Republican Bob Gibbs is running against Space in 2010. Space has raised over $2.4 million in the current election cycle; Gibbs has raised over $940,000. Both national parties are involved in the race. The Democrats are attacking Gibbs for his support of NAFTA and other trade deals, while Republicans are attacking Space for his support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Despite the Republican lean of the district and the Republican trend in 2010, Space’s campaign and fundraising skills make him a strong candidate (recent polls have Space winning). However, this will likely be a close election.

With a population of about 639,281, the 18th is 11.4% below the ideal population level, making one of the larger Democrat-held districts. As discussed above in the section on District 6, one possible Republican approach to eliminating two Democratic districts is the combination of parts of the 18th and 6th districts. If redistricting is bi-partisan, however, the 18th stands a better chance at preservation. In this case, it would likely take in voters from the southwest or northwest corner depending on which Republican seat is eliminated.

In conclusion, while Democrats currently hold ten of Ohio’s eighteen seats, this is highly unlikely to last through November. Republicans are in good shape to hold on to all of their eight seats in November and to pick up several more. Republicans may finish this election with as many as 13 of Ohio’s 18 seats, although a slighter smaller margin is more likely. In the case of a Republican controlled redistricting in which they eliminate two Democratic seats, Republicans could find themselves with anywhere from an 11-5 to a 13-3 majority going into November 2012. Things will be more balanced if redistricting is bi-partisan, although Republicans will still have ten to twelve of the state’s 16 districts post-redistricting.
No matter who is in control of the redistricting process next year, it is sure to be contentious and highly charged thanks to the loss of two seats. Democrats will have a particularly hard time, as most of the state’s lost population came from their urban strongholds.

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