Republicans misread polls in the run-up to Election Day, depended on glitchy get-out-the-vote technology and failed to get their presidential candidate elected despite the worst unemployment rates since the Great Depression.
They sure know how to draw congressional districts, though.
Building upon their 2010 midterm election wins, the GOP had a bulwark Nov. 6 that helped them hold onto the U.S. House even as President Barack Obama cruised to re-election and his party added members to the Senate. In Pennsylvania, U.S. Sen Bob Casey and three fellow Democrats for statewide row offices joined the president in wins.
But since the GOP not only flipped the House in 2010 but totally controlled 21 state governments, including Pennsylvania's, it allowed the party to master post-census congressional redistricting around the country. On Nov. 6, Democrats won the popular vote by 500,000 votes nationally but took just 201 of the 435 U.S. House seats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans took hold of 13 of 18 congressional seats while being outpaced by 75,000 total votes. Mr. Obama won 53 percent of the state's vote, but Democratic candidates won 28 percent of the seats.
"Pennsylvania is arguably the most distorted map in the country in terms of comparing the vote share and the seats won," said Nicholas Goedert, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis who focuses on redistricting issues.
The results led Democrats such as state Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County to complain that the state's districts were excessively manipulated by the GOP and the ability to gerrymander should be replaced next decade with nonpartisan methods of redrawing district lines.
"Voters should be electing their representatives. Instead, politicians are handpicking their voters. That's not democracy," he said recently.
The reality is more complex.
The same kind of results were repeated in the Obama states of Ohio (where Democrats won 25 percent of seats), Michigan (36 percent) and Wisconsin (38 percent), where the GOP also controlled redistricting. But in states where Democrats controlled the maps (such as Illinois and Massachusetts), Democrats didn't win congressional seats at the same rates as in GOP-run states, nor did they run up the score in states where maps are drawn by nonpartisan commissions or courts, such as New Jersey or Colorado.
That is because Democrats nationwide are packed into urban areas, and while that delivers winning margins for Obama in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, it limits Democratic chances for congressional seats to districts around cities.
Tasked with resetting congressional lines after the 2010 census, Republican mapmakers in Harrisburg took that reality and ran with it. They made the five seats Democrats eventually would win on Nov. 6 solidly Democratic, going by voting performance statistics kept by Cook Political Report. They wrangled the district lines of three GOP seats near Philadelphia -- most notably District 7, which stretched across parts of five counties -- to make them more Republican. Finally, forced by population losses to cut one seat, they combined two outside of Pittsburgh to make Democratic incumbents Jason Altmire and Mark Critz run against each other in the new District 12.
The mapmakers focused on protecting the 12 seats Republicans held after their 2010 wave election and making the 12th District winnable for GOP challenger Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, and it worked.
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