Democrats running for Congress will likely have a tougher time under a new district maps that give Republicans the upper hand for seven of the state's nine congressional seats after the GOP held just four going into the last election.
The Indiana House voted 62-31 mostly along party lines Thursday to give final legislative approval to the redistricting plan and send it to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is expected to sign it.
The plan shifts several Republican-leaning areas into northern Indiana's 2nd District, narrowly won last year by Democrat Joe Donnelly. It also appears to strengthen the GOP's hold on southern Indiana's 9th District — captured in 2010 by Republican Todd Young — by extending it further north to include heavily GOP Johnson County just south of Indianapolis.
Republicans defend the new districts as being more compact and keeping more counties together than the redistricting plan implemented in 2001 by Democrats, who then controlled the once-a-decade redistricting based on census figures.
Mike McDaniel, a former state Republican chairman, said the state's typical political leanings give the GOP an advantage.
"That's what you get when you draw these maps in a compact geographic way," McDaniel said. "The only way it was not that way was that Democrats went out of their way to gerrymander a lot of districts last time around."
Democrats argue the redistricting plan is aimed at protecting the state's six Republican congressmen and helping the GOP win Donnelly's seat. But they see an opening in that many of those GOP congressmen have had their district boundaries change significantly.
"The problem with the way they've tinkered with the maps is that some incumbents now have to go and introduce themselves into large swaths of their districts," state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker said.
Democrats hit a high-water mark by holding five of the state's nine congressional seats after the 2006 and 2008 elections. But Young and Larry Bucshon won back two of those seats for Republicans last year, and GOP candidate Jackie Walorski has already announced another bid for the seat she narrowly lost to Donnelly.
Donnelly is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Lugar.
Features of the redistricting plan include:
— maintaining solid Republican leanings for three long-time GOP seats now held by Marlin Stutzman (3rd District); Todd Rokita (4th District); and Dan Burton (5th District).
— keeping two strongly Democratic districts now held by Pete Visclosky (1st District) and Andre Carson (7th District).
— strengthening for Republicans the 2nd District, now held by Donnelly, by giving it all of Elkhart County and much of Kosciusko County, moving part of Democratic-leaning LaPorte County to the 1st District and removing all of Kokomo.
— shifting the 6th District held by Republican Mike Pence to the south, with it stretching from the Muncie area to four counties along the Ohio River. The GOP-leaning district could be an open seat next year if Pence makes his anticipated run to replace the term-limited Daniels as governor.
— leaving southwestern Indiana's 8th District, which Bucshon won in 2010, as a potential swing district as it picks up some Democratic-leaning counties along the Ohio River east of Evansville.
— turning the 9th District from what has long been a swing district made up of mostly rural southeastern Indiana counties into one that goes from the Louisville, Ky., suburbs to the fast-growing southern suburbs of Indianapolis. Those changes appear to strengthen it for the GOP's Young.
Parker maintained that Republicans didn't follow their rhetoric of drawing districts that made geographic sense.
"Look at the communities of interest they tried to tie together — Indianapolis suburbs with Louisville suburbs, three districts that touch the Ohio River," Parker said. "The whole notion that they were going to keep parts of the state together that needed to be together — that's a farce."