Jockeying for redistricting control – Gillespie leads GOP in bid to out-muscle Dem advantage

Control of Congress (both House and Senate) looms large as the key political battle of 2010. The GOP is trying to regain it; the Democrats are trying to hold it. Since Scott Brown’s “upset” victory in the Bay State last month, the pending clash has fascinated all of the major political prognosticators, including Larry Sabato, Nate Silver and Stuart Rothenberg.

Here’s the catch: while control of Congress might be the most intriguing political battle in 2010, it might not actually be the most important one. What could possibly be more important than control of Congress, you ask?

Control of redistricting!

The start of a new decade signals a new census which, in turn, means new boundary lines will be drawn for Congressional, state and local legislative districts. Control of redistricting is a prize worth fighting for – given the inertia of incumbency, the party voting patterns emphasized by redistricting can last the entire decade. In 36 states, the party that controls the state legislature drafts the redistricting map. Many of those same states have legislatures that could swing to either party in 2010. The stakes and the opportunity are a perfect layup to pitched battles for statehouse control across the country.

For the past decade, the Democratic team, spearheaded by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), has consistently had the upper hand; having been far more diligent and dedicated to committing resources to key races across the country. The DLCC, founded in 1994, “has been working on its own redistricting plan since mid-decade, and it too has designs on some of the most narrowly divided state legislatures in the country.”

On the GOP side, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) is on point. Since its inception in 2002, the RSLC has been simultaneously charged with overseeing the elections of “state legislators, attorneys general, lieutenant governors, and secretaries of state” as well as nurturing the GOP’s farm team – the party’s “roster of up-and-coming state candidates that could go on to run for Congress, governor” or even President at some point in the future.

Enter former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie. Fresh off his victorious stint as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s campaign chairman, Gillespie took the helm of the RSLC last week. His transition to the RSLC signals that GOP leaders are taking redistricting more seriously than ever before. According to Gillespie, the game plan is simple: the RSLC will “‘be focusing on 30 to 40 state races that will be critical in helping to us to get in the best position for the redistricting process.’”

What changes Gillespie makes to RSLC game plan will unfold in the coming weeks and months. For sure there will be some pitched battles for the statehouses.

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