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This Week In Congress - June 4, 2010

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I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...

...Was a recess week. So today we devote this segment to a conversation with David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report. With Congress set to return to work amid what is now the thick of primary season, Wasserman is watching every move in the House races, and this year he’s looking at the added element of the 2010 Census. Every 10 years, the population count brings some pretty major shifts to the political landscape.

WASSERMAN: In 2011 we’re likely to see reapportionment that assigns more seats in the House and more electoral college votes to southern states, western states--as has been the pattern for the last several decades.

Those poised to gain include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah. Reapportionment is a zero-sum game. So their gain has to be some other states’ loss. So who stands to lose?

WASSERMAN: Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan--some of the old Rust Belt states. The big winner in the census reapportionment process will be Texas. Which will gain seats in the House and four Electoral College votes, most likely.

If the Census is a snapshot – this one is blurry in places. Because the subject shifted.

WASSERMAN: What’s ironic right now is that the population growth...has actually begun to stunt right now in the recession. States like Arizona and Nevada aren’t exactly growing like they used to because of foreclosure crises, etc.

Fewer seats will change hands as a result of this Census than have in decades past.

In the past, reapportionment has been where the action is. This time around, Wasserman says it’s really about re-districting. Because within state houses and state legislatures where redistricting takes place, there’s more skill and savvy than ever at the fine art of strategically redrawing district boundaries. The media has also changed.

WASSERMAN: As soon as you have a bunch of bloggers and other outside activists who are trying to get in on the process, just imagine how much stickier this process becomes. I think we’re likely to see a polarization of the country in this process to an extent we have seen before in redistricting.

Sounds pretty academic. What does it mean?

WASSERMAN: Well, I think it means that more of these plans will end up in court. And that judges, rather than state legislators, will end up drawing a significant portion of lines and boundaries for the next decade.

That’s yet another reason to pay close attention to what happens in the primaries. Wasserman cautions against projecting the results onto November elections. Primaries are, after all, better seen as a snapshot of each party’s base. And come November, it’s the Independents who will be the key...

WASSERMAN: But it’s instructive that so many incumbents are having trouble winning re-nomination in their primaries so far. And I think there really is an anti-incumbent sentiment in the electorate that’s not just felt among Independents, but extends to both parties’ bases. And we’re starting to see that in these primary elections, including some that may surprise us next week.

One of those is the primary challenge faced by California incumbent Jane Harman. She’s known as a foreign policy hawk, especially when it comes to Israel. Her fellow Democrat is challenging Harman from the left on that key topic.

WASSERMAN: This is probably the only Congressional race in the country that is really coming down to foreign policy issues right now. I still see Jane Harman as a favorite to win this race, but it could be a good test of the anti-incumbent sentiment in the Democratic base.

In all, ten states hold primaries this coming Tuesday. For now, the counting continues, and each day counts.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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