Election map aids Indiana GOP grip on House seats

Indiana Democrats don't expect their election prospects to improve soon after Republicans drew election maps that led to the GOP picking up two U.S. congressional seats in 2012.

The 2011 redistricting marked the first time in decades that Republicans controlled the redistricting process, as they dominated the state House and Senate and hold the governorship. In 1991 and 2001, Democrats held the Indiana House, giving them a say in the Congressional maps.

Republicans took once-sprawling districts and made them more compact, reducing the potential for competitive U.S. House races. Those moves, plus Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly's decision to run for U.S. Senate, resulted in Democrats losing their 5-4 edge in the Indiana congressional delegation as Republicans claimed seven of the state's nine seats in 2012.

Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, pointed to the movement of heavily Republican areas such as Kosciusko County from the Republican-strong 3rd District to the more-balanced 2nd District as key changes that helped GOP candidates.

"I think it is safe to say that the redistricting benefited the Republicans in 2012," he said. "When districts are competitive, small shifts can make the difference."

Under the old Democrat-drawn maps, the 5th and 4th Districts made strange contortions to encapsulate more Republican voters, while the 9th District was drawn in such a way to capture conservative Democrats along the Ohio River and stretched to Bloomington to capture a pocket of liberal Democrats.

The new maps concentrate Democrats in northwestern Indiana's 1st District, where Rep. Pete Visclosky has served 15 terms, and in the heart of Indianapolis, where 7th District Rep. Andre Carson is in his third full term after succeeding his grandmother, longtime Rep. Julia Carson, who died in 2007.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, has advocated for a commission to study the redistricting process before the next maps are drawn in 2021. House Republican leaders also crafted a similar measure that would have appointed a committee to hold public hearings and craft a map with better input.

Neither measure gained traction in the Republican-led Senate, frustrating Democrats.

"I just think as long as the maps are drawn by the people who will run in those maps, it seems like politics is going to endure," Lanane said.

For now, Democrats' best hope of winning back a seat lies in the 2nd District, which used to be held by Donnelly.

In 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama pulled out a surprising presidential victory in Indiana, voters in the 2nd District chose him over Republican John McCain by 9.4 percentage points. But in 2012, Republican Mitt Romney beat Obama by 14 percentage points in the redrawn district, and Republican Jackie Walorski won a narrow victory.

Democratic candidate Joe Bock, a Notre Dame professor and former Missouri state lawmaker, has drawn support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But the makeup of the new district is still strongly Republican, favoring incumbent Walorski in the 2014 election.

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