Democrats and the disastrous head count


Don't let any Democrats tell you that the short-term effect of the new Census data released Tuesday is anything less than disastrous for them.

I refer to the effect on congressional majorities and on votes for president in the Electoral College. In other words, I refer to political power in America.

People fled over the past decade to conservative Southern states at a rate that will give the South seven additional seats in Congress -- eight altogether from Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, offset by one lost in Louisiana because a storm washed away much of a major city and the federal government didn't do a lot to save it.

Not all of these seats will necessarily go to Republicans. That will hinge on district designs and demographics, even the occasional gerrymander. But let's be serious: They probably will.

Southern growth is in the affluent suburbs, which usually are Republican havens, not the inner cities, which are reliably Democratic strongholds.

These additional congressional seats will be taken from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri -- states either left-leaning or swing. In other words, these vanishing seats were ones Democrats either held or had a decent shot at holding.

There's growth out west, too, but that's kind of a political wash, congressionally speaking. The three states gaining a seat each in Congress were Utah, which is red; Washington, which is blue, and Nevada, which can go either way.

In regard to the Electoral College, this new Census accomplishes nothing less than to increase the dire prospect of another Bush-Gore.

By that I invoke the prospect of a White House loss for a Democrat who gets the most popular votes nationwide but loses in the Electoral College -- and with everything perhaps even coming down again to Florida, which now will have yet two more electors.

That is because confirmed blue states now have fewer electors and confirmed red ones have more. Automatic Democratic wins no longer count for as many electoral votes as do automatic Republican wins.

A Democratic presidential candidate could rack up vast popular majorities in a few of our largest states -- California, New York, Illinois -- that would propel him or her to a national popular vote advantage. Yet he could still lose the Electoral College because Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina now have more electoral votes.

You will notice, by the way, that voters are ever-more clumped together in like-minded environments. It's another example of the malignant polarization of America.

Further complicating the emerging calculus for Democrats is that some of the big Eastern and Midwestern swing states that they simply must win -- New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan -- not only lost electors, but lost them because of inordinate economic distress, the continuing Rust Belt decay, that tends to make inhabitants angry.

You do not relish running for re-election as president when your vital swing-state voters are angry over the economic plight that, coincidentally, cost them electors.

Please note that all of this is about the short term, mainly 2012.

Beyond that, the truest thing we can say is that politics is cyclical. These cycles tend to evolutionary rather than revolutionary, years rather than months.

To conclude: The clear advantage for 2012 belongs to the Republicans and is stronger now than it was before the Census data was released.

Reapportionment alone gives them a leg up on a half-dozen or more seats. The new electoral distribution gives them a better shot than before at defeating Barack Obama, if they only had a good candidate.

That happens to be the only thing they currently lack and one thing the great American migration cannot fix for them.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@arkansasnews.com.

 

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