Sunday, June 19, 2011
First thoughts on the new 3rd District
(Photo Credit T.J. Hamilton)
Lost in the middle of the extended Memorial Day weekend was the leaking of a draft Congressional District map drawn by the Redistricting Committee Republicans in the State House and Senate. Since the Detroit News and Grand Rapids Press have covered this story within their pages, I won’t go into greater detail about how the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was deeply involved with drawing the map. This map was confirmed when the Republican members of the Redistricting Committees in the State House and Senate released their maps last week Friday morning.
However, the newly drawn 3rd District deserves a closer look. While Terri Land thought otherwise in the Grand Rapids Press article (stating “we really have dodged a bullet for a long time here by not having Kent County split”), Kent County is split under the existing map, with the 3rd District encompassing the whole of Ionia and Barry Counties, and includes all of Kent County with the exception of Alpine, Solon, Sparta, and Tyrone Townships (which are in the 2nd District). Under the proposed map, the new 3rd District would include the entirety of Barry, Calhoun, and Ionia Counties, and portions of Kent and Montcalm Counties. Only a small part of Montcalm County containing portion Greenville City and Eureka Township would be in the 3rd, while all of Kent County with the exception of part of Byron Township, Walker, Grandville, Wyoming, and Kentwood would be in the new district.
The breaking up of metropolitan Grand Rapids into two Congressional Districts is a first-time occurrence since Michigan gained statehood in 1837. I consider metropolitan Grand Rapids to consist of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Grand Rapids Township, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, and Walker. While moving the suburbs of Walker, Grandville, Wyoming, and Kentwood into the 2nd District might have been due to Republican leaders in Kent County wanting a member of Congress who actually represented his constituents, the new map also removes some portions of the metropolitan region that became increasingly Democratic over the past decade. In particular, Kentwood moved from being a Republican stronghold to a competitive (if Republican leaning) municipality. With the new 3rd District population at 714, 539 residents, this proposed district is 8,565 over the 705,974 congressional district size, meaning that a portion of Kentwood or Wyoming is likely to be assigned to District 3.
From a review of election data between 1998 and 2010 (as well as the 2010 census data), it doesn’t appear that the new map helps current Republican Congressman Justin Amash with reelection in 2012. The new 3rd District was made more Democratic to help preserve the seats of Republicans Tim Walberg (District 7) and Thad McCotter (District 11). 25% of the new 3rd District will have not been previously represented by Amash in Congress, while 24% Amash’s current district will move to the 2nd District. An overwhelming percentage of these new residents in the 3rd District will hail from Calhoun County, which has historically been a Democratic stronghold. Calhoun County had a population of 136,146 in 2010, with half of its population living in Democratic strongholds of Battle Creek (52,347), Springfield (5,189), and Albion (8,616), where the Democratic baseline has not fallen below 60% in the past five election cycles.
Looking at the new 3rd District from the past six election cycles, the data shows that it will take the right Democratic candidate to win this seat. Only two Democratic candidates have won the new 3rd District: Barack Obama with 50.4%, and Carl Levin with 54.2% in 2008. Granholm came close to winning the district in 2006 with 49.4%, and Stabenow received 48.9%. Democrats further down the ticket tended to under-perform, although the Democratic baseline for the district was 46.7% in 2008 and 44.3% in 2006. Democrats throughout the 3rd District did far poorer in 2010, and the Democratic baseline dropped to 42.3%
The Democratic strategy for within the new 3rd District would be as follows: Have at least a 25,000 vote edge from the city of Grand Rapids, win a majority in Kent County, win Battle Creek, Springfield, and Albion with a 7,000 vote margin, carry Calhoun County with at least 55% of the vote, and get at least 45% of the vote in Barry and Ionia Counties. A tall order, but certainly doable.
The great challenge for a Democratic candidate would be to find money to advertise in the two media markets of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Will the impact of television advertising is, at best, minimal on getting voters to the voting booth, it is still a required part of any effective campaign. A Democratic would also benefit from having a number of urban areas in the district (Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Albion, and Greenville) that are strong Democratic centers and also eminently walkable by canvassers. In order to have a candidate make a strong effort at cutting the GOP margin in rural Kent, Ionia, and Barry Counties, there needs to be a revitalization of the Democratic County parties to build a presence in these areas.
Given that Amash underperformed the Republican baseline by 3% in 2010, this district should be a potential opportunity for the Democrats to challenge again in 2012. Having a candidate like Mark Schauer would be a big coup for the Democrats, given that Schauer has consistently overperformed the Democratic baseline in every race he's been in since winning election to the State House in 1996. I've averaged the last six races Schauer ran, and it averages to about 4%. While this wasn't enough to save Schauer in the 2010 GOP wave, I wouldn't under estimate his ability to win in a new district. In many respects, the new GOP congressional map had to make the decision whether to through Schauer's home county of Calhoun in Walberg or Amash's district. It shows the State Republicans' dislike for the 3rd District Representative when they deliver him the unwanted gift of a potential Schauer challenge.