Redistricting Bonanza: AZ, MI, and VA

Introduction

The end of the Christmas reprieve left this week packed with fascinating redistricting developments. Before the holidays we reviewed California and New Jersey, both of which you can read about here. This piece will be focusing on the electoral implications posed by newly-enacted maps in Arizona, Michigan, and Virginia. So without further ado, let’s dive in.

Arizona

After drawing a Democratic-leaning last cycle, Arizona’s redistricting commission opted to move in a different direction this year. The recently-adopted plan is mostly favorable to Republicans, with districts 2, 4, and 6 getting redder than their predecessors 1, 9, and 2. District 1, a Biden-won swing seat, is the only bright spot for Democrats. Home to embattled Republican Congressman David Schweikert, it includes much of the territory of the current 6th and could flip sometime over the next decade.
Arizona-1 (Replacing AZ-6)
 
Courtesy of DRA

The new 1st district is one of the few parts of the Grand Canyon State’s new map that benefits Democrats. Hugging the northern extent of Maricopa County, the seat is geographically reminiscent of the old 5th district used from 2002-2010. Unlike the antiquated 5th, the 1st does not swing down into communities like Tempe and Mesa; both find themselves in the Democratic-leaning 4th district.

District 6 is the direct predecessor of the 1st. In 2012, it backed Romney by 20 points. But Democratic trends throughout Maricopa County, including communities like Scottsdale, have since pushed the district leftward; President Trump won it by just 4 points last year.
Besides picking up sparsely-populated Republican territory in outer Maricopa, the 1st does not get better for the GOP. The biggest change comes in its southwestern corner, where it acquires the rest of Scottsdale along with extended portions of Phoenix that are currently in the 9th. These changes make the marginal 1st Biden-won by around a point.
Incumbent Republican David Schweikert was first elected to Congress in 2010, defeating Harry Mitchell. He did not face a remotely competitive race again until 2018, when he won by 10 points. 2020 saw him perform similarly to Trump in his district, defeating physician Hiral Tipirneni in his closest election yet. Many pundits had expected the 6th to flip to the Democrats, but Biden’s Maricopa County victory was not enough to do the trick.
With the national environment expected to be more favorable for Republicans this time around, Schweikert should have an easier time distracting from his blotched ethics record.
Design changes might make this district bluer, but it’s unclear how dedicated Democrats will be to ousting a long-time incumbent amid a hostile climate. Tipirneni is considering another bid for the seat, though she might be better served waiting until 2024 to contest the 1st in earnest. Lean Republican
Arizona-2 (Replacing AZ-1)
 
Courtesy of DRA
Accounting for most of the 1st district’s current territory, the redrawn 2nd is nothing short of a slam-dunk for Republicans. About half of the seat’s population resides in Yavapai and Pinal counties. The rest of the district is rooted around Flagstaff, the indigent reservations of the Hopi, Navajo, and Apache, and scattered rural whites. On the whole, the expression land doesn’t vote has a particular salience here.
The current 1st has been marginal since it was created, voting narrowly for both Romney and Trump. In 2020, Biden flipped it by 2 points. Senators Sinema and Kelly also carried the district in their respective bids. Under the current lines, most of the seat’s vote is cast in right-leaning portions of Pinal and Pima counties.
To account for depopulation in redistricting, the commission chose to incorporate the rest of heavily-Republican Yavapai County (Prescott & Jerome). Other changes included the removal of ancestrally-Democratic Greenlee County. All of Graham County excluding the Apache Reservation was also expropriated. Following the Yavapai absorption, the 2nd is a Trump +8 seat. Had the commission edged further south toward Tucson instead, the final product would have been more favorable for Democrats.
The incumbent is Democrat Tom O’Halleran, who lives near Sedona in the bluest part of Yavapai County. Co-Chair of the House Blue Dogs, O’Halleran has won competitive reelection challenges twice since taking over for Ann Kirkpatrick in 2016. In 2020 he received a higher share of the vote in the district than Biden did, only underperforming Kelly. Despite his strength as a candidate, O’Halleran’s reelection prospects for next year are among the grimmest in the Democratic caucus.
A hostile national environment would embolden the 2nd’s already-strong Republican partisan lean, likely posing a death blow to the three-term Congressman’s electoral viability. The leading GOP candidate at the moment currently seems to be state Representative Walter Blackman. Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane is another viable contender, though he seems to be running to Blackman’s right. Both men have fundraised credibly since launching their campaigns over the summer. Likely Republican (flip)
Arizona-4 (Replacing AZ-9)
 
Courtesy of DRA

District 4 is certainly better for Republicans than the current 9th, but it is still a Democratic-leaning seat in which the GOP probably has an inauspicious future. Based entirely within the expanse that is Maricopa County, the 4th is centered around the blue communities of Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler.

The 9th district is significantly bluer than its replacement, though it started life as a much more marginal seat. Back in 2012, Obama carried it by just 4 points. Eight years later, Biden won it by 24. That seismic swing in and around Phoenix made the 9th prohibitively Democratic in Congressional races almost immediately after it was created.
Renumbered as the 4th, the new seat deviates significantly from its predecessor. It still includes Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler, but exchanges Democratic portions of Phoenix for Republican parts of Andy Biggs’s 5th to the east. The swap reduces Biden’s districtwide edge to around 10 points – a drop of 14. Democrats are made vulnerable by the change in partisanship, but they should remain favorites given the continuity of long-term trends in the Maricopa County.
The incumbent here is Greg Stanton, first elected in 2018 when Kyrsten Sinema retired to run for Senate. He will be facing his first competitive Congressional election next year assuming the environment remains favorable for the GOP. Stanton begins as a favorite, but the 4th’s weakened Democratic standing should concern him. Tanya Wheeless, an ex-McSally staffer seems like an early Republican primary frontrunner. Lean Democratic
Arizona-6 (Replacing AZ-2)
 
Courtesy of DRA

Arizona’s most competitive seat by raw partisan lean is the new 6th district, which voted for Biden by a mere 396 votes (0.1%). Most of its population is based in and around Tucson in Pima County, along with redder portions of Pinal and Cochise. Transplanted Greenlee and Graham are less populated, but blood red enough to make the difference for a GOP candidate in a close race.

The additions of Greenlee, Graham, and Pinal alter the new 6th’s shape significantly, but the seat’s population centers (Pima and Cochise) remain identical to its predecessor. When it was drawn in 2012, the 2nd was Romney-won. It flipped to Clinton four years later, with Biden doubling her margin to 10 points in 2020. This seat was held by Martha McSally until she ran for Senate and was succeeded by former Congresswoman Kirkpatrick.
As mentioned, the renumbered 6th gets a lot easier for Republicans to win under the new lines. For one, the it takes in redder communities in Pima like Oro Valley and Marana. Both supplement the redder exclaves of Tucson to the southwest, offsetting the county-wide partisan lean. Additional Republican territory in Pinal, Graham, and Greenlee counties bolsters the seat’s preexisting GOP base in Cochise. The modifications yield an evenly-split seat that should be among the most fiercely contested in the nation in any environment.
Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick is retiring next year after three anachronous stints in the House. The leading Democrat to succeed her appears to be state Representative Daniel Hernandez of Tucson, though he is not unopposed in his primary. Juan Ciscomani, a former advisor to Governor Doug Ducey, is the leading Republican in the race so far, with a near-monopoly on fundraising. Even though we expect a strong GOP environment in 2022, we aren’t comfortable favoring Republicans outright this early. In the end, the margin here should line up well with the national aggregate. Tossup

Michigan

Michigan’s redistricting commission was one of the few in the whole country that worked effectively this cycle. It produced multiple drafts, seemed cohesive in its functionality, and never failed to be open to the public. That aside, the new maps seem to benefit the Democrats long-term. Biden carried 7 of the 13 seats, but three (3, 7, 8) could vote Republican in a red wave. The current 7-7 delegation arose after 2018, when Democrats flipped the 8th and 11th districts to undo the efficacy of the Republican gerrymander.
Michigan-4 and 11 “The Double Bunkings”
 
Courtesy of DRA

Four incumbents were double-bunked under Michigan’s new Congressional lines. There are now six incumbent on incumbent primary battles unfolding across the nation, each of which will be touched on in detail next year after redistricting is concluded. For the sake of this article, the focus will be on Michigan’s two contests.

  • GA07 (D) Bourdeaux v. McBath
  • WV02 (R) McKinley v. Mooney
  • IL06 (D) Casten v. Newman
  • IL12 (R) Bost v. Miller
  • MI04 (R) Huizenga v. Upton
  • MI11 (D) Levin v. Stevens
On paper the 4th is a competitive Trump-won seat in southwestern Michigan, though Democrats seem far from keen on targeting it next year. Incumbents Fred Upton (6) and Bill Huizenga (2) are drawn together under the new lines, though most of the territory (including Kalamazoo) in the novel 4th is currently represented by Upton. Battle Creek is the only addition to the modified 4th not in either the 2nd or 6th districts at present.
Looking at the Republican vote share by district portion, a half-decent early gauge of primary support, Upton appears to be at an advantage. There are simply more of his constituents in the new 4th than of Huizenga. That conventional wisdom would make next year’s primary Upton’s to lose, but there are other factors at play that should be touched on.
For one, the two Congressmen are not going to be the only candidates in the race. Upton is unpopular with the Trump wing of the GOP for his votes on BIF and impeachment, both of which contributed to the former President’s endorsement of challenger Steve Carra. It is unclear if the state Representative will continue his campaign against two incumbents, but he cannot be ignored. Perhaps Trump will endorse Huizenga, which might alter the Dutchman’s otherwise geographically-problematic chances.
In the Safe Democratic 11th, Andy Levin (9) and Haley Stevens (11) are seeking the same seat. The district is entirely Oakland County-based, with 38% of the Biden votes coming from portions of the 11th currently represented by Stevens. A smaller 29% stems from Levin’s 9th. Ultimately, the primary battle here will be fought and won based on who can appeal to the 33% of Biden voters in the new 11th that were previously in the 14th. Both Levin and Stevens are ideologically similar, and neither wants to run an uphill reelection battle in the Trump-won 10th. It should also be noted that Levin, not Stevens, lives in the 11th as it is currently drawn, making claims that he is a carpetbagger factually inaccurate.
Michigan-3
 
Courtesy of DRA

When it comes to sheer district partisanship, the most drastic changes occurred in the 3rd district. Still based around Kent County, the seat is now even more influenced by Grand Rapids. One of the Wolverine State’s burgeoning metropolises, the city has been at the forefront of anti-Trump (backed Cruz in 2016 & John James outran the President in 2020), pro-Democratic trends that have inundated this Dutch-dominated country with increasing potency. In a region that has long been the heart of Michigan Republicanism, the party now finds itself in a state of palpable long-term uncertainty.

(This was also the home of former President Gerald Ford, whose dream it was to become House Speaker. Besides Richard Vander Veen, who won the special election following Ford’s resignation, this part of western Michigan just has not elected Democrats to the House)
The current 3rd district voted for Trump twice, though the overall Republican vote share has dropped slightly since the Romney days when the seat was drawn. Kent County has been the driver behind this incessant Democratic push, and it does not seem keen on reverting anytime soon. After all, Biden was the best performing Presidential Democrat in the county since LBJ in 1964. The current district has stayed Republican because the other counties (Ionia, Barry, and Calhoun) are red enough to make up for modest losses in Grand Rapids-dominated Kent. Last year, the 3rd backed Trump by just 4 points.
Under the new proposal, the exterior Republican counties are removed from the 3rd district. Further benefitting Democrats, the seat picks up more of Kent while absorbing Muskegon. While the city of Muskegon is Democratic, the county has been trending toward the Republicans at the federal level for quite some time. The result of the changes is a Biden +8.5 seat that seems out of reach for Republicans on paper. Looking under the hood will show that it certainly is not, especially under favorable environmental conditions.
Republican Peter Meijer is young, pragmatic, and imbued with strong familial name recognition. He is a traditional GOP Congressman perfectly-crafted to fit the sensibilities of his new anti-Trump district. Meijer faces a primary challenge from Trump-endorsed John Gibbs, a controversial candidate in his own right. It is unclear how vulnerable he is in the primary, but the peculiar independence of the 3rd’s Republicans could be his saving grace. Nevertheless, most pundits would agree that the Republican path to holding this significantly-bluer district runs exclusively through Meijer. Democrat Hillary Scholten could run again next year, but might be better off waiting for a more neutral environment. Tossup
Michigan-7 (Replacing MI-8)
 
Courtesy of DRA

The new 7th district is ostensibly better for Democrats than the preceding 8th district, but the changes do not obviate from the fact that the seat will still be a top target for Republicans next year. Ingham County’s Lansing, Michigan’s capital city, is still the heart of the 7th and its Democratic base.

Neighboring Livingston County remains the GOP counterbalance to the electoral prowess of Lansing. Under the current lines, the Trump-won 8th gets the remainder of its Republican votes from portions of Oakland County that are now in Lisa McClain’s seat. To make up for the loss, the 7th takes in all of Shiawassee County. Nearby Clinton is significantly less Republican and more populated. Southern Eaton is more of a coin flip owing largely to the outgrowth of Lansing and its Democratic vote. All of the counties in the seat are nonetheless well-populated and important to the result.
The incumbent Democrat is Elissa Slotkin, first elected in 2018. In winning reelection to a seat Trump narrowly won, she became one of just a handful of Representatives from “crossover” seats. The number of split outcome races has precipitously dwindled in recent years as House races become increasingly tied to the top of the ticket, making her feat more respectable than it might otherwise be considered.
But Slotkin’s incumbency and the new seat’s Biden +1 status might not be enough to save her next year. Ahead of what is expected to be a favorable Republican environment, the 7th is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive seats. State Senator Tom Barrett is the leading GOP candidate thus far. He also hails from Eaton, part of the district where Republicans cannot afford to lose votes. Tossup
 
Michigan-8 (Replacing MI-5)
 
Courtesy of DRA

 

The 8th district is the successor to the current 5th, one of many traditionally-Democratic seats around the country (i.e. IN1, OH13) in which working class voters have driven favorable Republican trends. Under the new lines, the 8th remains based around Saginaw and Flint. Bay City and Midland are also in the district, though they pack a smaller punch.
Redistricting makes the 8th redder than the old 5th, albeit narrowly. Its predecessor broke for Biden by only 4 points last year – down from Obama +23 when it was initially drawn. The new district trades the rural northern counties of Arenac and Iosco for Midland, an echelon that is still reliably Republican despite Democratic trends. All of Saginaw County is also included, further adding to the GOP count. All told, the 8th clocks in at just Biden +2 – prime territory for a Republican pick-up next year.
The incumbent Democrat is Dan Kildee, a Congressman who succeeded his uncle after his own lengthy career. Kildee is certainly a strong incumbent who, like Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur, has always managed to outrun the top of the ticket in Presidential years. (I wrote a detailed piece on this here) But no one can ignore the elephant in the room: his margin of overperformance dropped extensively during the Trump era – 22 to 8.
There is no reason to expect a decade-long decline to stop in an off-year Republican midterm with reduced turnout in an reddened district in which most (not all) of the territory is still trending toward the GOP. Far from stopping the drop-off, the environment as it currently stands could be the gasoline that turns a kindling fire into a conflagration. Kildee is not out of the game by any means, but his days of being an outright, unquestioned favorite are over.
It does not seem like 2020 nominee Tim Kelly will run again after giving Kildee the closest race of his career under the old lines, so Republicans are hoping for 2018 Gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette. Even though he lost his last statewide bid, he would be a credible candidate for a new seat that should be among the most competitive nationwide. Tossup
 
Michigan-10 (Replacing MI-9, 10, 11)
 
Courtesy of DRA

The final competitive seat worth discussing in the Wolverine State is the 10th district, an open seat with a surprisingly foreseeable future. It is based mostly in Macomb, a Republican-leaning county with fascinating political demography and a far wilder history.

Under the redraw, the 10th encompasses all of Macomb’s southern half. While the county as a whole certainly has a Republican edge, its bottom extent (Warren and East Pointe) is fairly Democratic. Thus, the new district becomes a microcosm of the well-defined divide between the county’s disparate political, racial, and economic factions. In many ways, the complexities of an entire nation are scaled down into a clean, compact package – in this case a Congressional district.
Most of the 10th’s territory is currently in the 9th, but the seat includes small parts of the old 10th and 11th too. The district backed Trump by about one point last year, meaning it would probably be one of the nation’s median seats in a neutral year. But partisan lean is not the only factor to account for, and next year’s Republican environment could discourage Democrats from trying fervently.
Andy Levin does represent most of the territory in this new 10th under the 9th’s current boundaries, but he does not live here. Haley Stevens, a native of Rochester Hills, could run here, but chose to challenge Levin in the neighboring 11th instead. That leaves the Republican-leaning 10th open ahead of a midterm in which the environment is still expected to be on the GOP’s side. The national party has begun courting two-time Senate nominee John James for the seat, and he seems like a formidable candidate.
James’s leads over both Levin and Stevens in hypothetical internal polls have probably contributed just as much to his de-facto nominee status as they have to the Stevens’s decision to abandon ship for the 11th. Former Congressman Mike Bishop is also considering a comeback bid, but it is hard to see him outcompeting James with the NRCC working against him. Lean Republican (flip)
 
Interestingly, as noted earlier this week by analyst J. Miles Coleman, a James victory would mark the first time in well over half a century that Macomb County is represented entirely by Republicans.

Virginia

Ask any half-decent analyst, and he or she will probably come to the conclusion that the Old Dominion’s redistricting commission did not work. Strife and inadequate decision making stymied the genuine intent of a voter-approved process that was supposed to modernize and elevate the art of Congressional map-making. Ultimately, the discordant commission punted its responsibilities to the Virginia Supreme Court. That lofty body appointed “special masters” to complete the redrawing proceedings.
The adopted plan ended up being more favorable to Republicans than the first special masters draft. Democrats exchanged a Safe 7th for a slightly-less Safe 10th. More importantly, the new competitive 7th is a much more feasible target by partisan lean alone than the previous 10th. The 2nd remained relatively unchanged between the two drafts. Assuming the GOP holds all of 4 of its current seats, flipping the 2nd and 7th would give it the delegation majority.
Virginia-2
 
Courtesy of DRA
The 2nd district is still based predominantly around Virginia Beach, one of the Old Dominion’s largest and most electorally significant independent cities. Once solidly Republican at the Presidential level, trends have softened this pristine shore community into a mild Democratic haven. Those sentiments have trickled down ballot, driving victories by Ralph Northam and Elaine Luria. At the same time, these voters have been willing to revert to form. Glenn Youngkin’s election as Governor last month is a great example of this, since most pundits agree Republicans cannot win statewide without Virginia Beach.
Under the new lines, the 2nd is Biden-won by just 2 points. That’s a noticeable drop from the current Biden +5 rendition of the seat. Most of the change in partisan lean can be attributed to the new district geography. The 2nd still includes all of Virginia Beach plus the two barrier counties of Accomack and Northampton, but that’s where the similarities end. In the redraw, Democratic portions of Norfolk and Hampton join Republican-leaning York County in being removed from the district. Chesapeake, Suffolk, and Isle of Wight counties are also added into the seat. Most of the new votes come out of Chesapeake, with the additional counties balancing each other out to some extent when it comes to partisan lean.
The incumbent Democrat is Elaine Luria, one of many members of the 2018 freshman class currently representing swing seats. Her somewhat comfortable reelection last year was undoubtedly boosted by President Biden’s impressive districtwide performance. But Luria’s next reelection is uncertain. Because of the design changes and seat reddening, she cannot afford to lose as much ground in Virginia Beach as she otherwise could have. Essentially, Luria becomes an even easier target for Republicans than she already was. The GOP seems to have found a good candidate in state Senator Jen Kiggans. Tossup
Virginia-7

Republicans are very satisfied with the final special masters rendition of the 7th district. Compared to the 10th on the first publicly-released draft, the 7th is considered an easier carry for the GOP. The new lines differ quite starkly from those of the current version influenced heavily by portions of Henrico and Chesterfield counties. Only the northern part (Spotsylvania, Orange, Culpeper) of that seat found its way into the new seat.

Both the old and new districts voted for President Biden, but the differences in overall margin are telling. The antiquated version relied on the outgrowth of Democratic support from Richmond into neighboring Henrico and Chesterfield counties. That version backed Biden by a single point. The latest version chops off the northern, more Republican parts of the current 7th and combines them with Democratic territory in Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Prince William. Resulting from those modifications is a Biden +7 seat that would normally lean Democratic but could be seriously contested in a Republican year. Ironically, the heavily-Democratic Prince William portion (with a decently-sized Hispanic population) is the only part of the seat that has seen favorable GOP trends.
The incumbent here is Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat who survived her first reelection by a narrower than expected margin. As a moderate who seemed listless and without a home following the first draft, the former CIA veteran must be happy with the final map.
While Spanberger does not live in the new district and could still face stiff primary opposition from someone like Hala Ayala or Jennifer Carroll Foy, it seems like she is better suited to lock down the nomination under these lines than under those of the first publicly-released plan.
There are countless potential Republican candidates for the new seat, though it is unclear how a nominating convention will affect the dynamics of the race. State Senator Bryce Reeves represents Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Orange, and Fredericksburg. That’s a sizeable amount of the district, but not enough to ensure nomination outright. Another candidate that has received some attention online as of late is Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega. Given the Republican trends in that part of the 7th and her Hispanic origin, she could be a very compelling nominee. Other hopefuls include state Senator Amanda Chase, 2020 candidates John McGuire and Tina Ramirez, and ex-McDonnell staffer Taylor Keeney.
The 7th did back Youngkin comfortably under the new lines, so there is definitely evidence that a credible Republican candidate could flip this seat next year with environmental conditions on his or her side. For Spanberger to win, she would basically have to use McAuliffe’s numbers as a floor benchmark from which to work upward. If Democrats do lose the seat in the fall, it would likely return to the party’s fold sometime later in the decade. Tossup

Updated House Ratings

New Ratings (Competitive Seats)
 
AZ-01 Lean R
AZ-02 Likely R (flip)
AZ-04 Lean D
AZ-06 Tossup
MI-03 Tossup
MI-07 Tossup
MI-08 Tossup
MI-10 Lean R (flip)
VA-02 Tossup
VA-07 Tossup
Changes (All Seats)
 
NC-11 Likely R to Safe R
OH-10 Likely R to Safe R
OH-15 Likely R to Safe R
IN-01 Likely D to Lean D
CA-09 Safe D to Likely D

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: