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Redistricting Shifts Importance To Primaries

Next Tuesday, Ohioans will pick their candidates for the fall ballot in the state’s new 14 Congressional districts. But next week’s vote could decide more than just who’s on the ballot this fall – it could decide the ultimate winner. This primary is an uphill battle for 29 year old Graham Veysey. "You look at this race, and it’s really a David versus not just one Goliath but two Goliaths." Veysey is running for the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 9th U.S. House district, against 10th district Rep. Dennis Kucinich and incumbent Marcy Kaptur. Normally a new contender would expect a challenge in running against a veteran lawmaker, but the map that Republican lawmakers drew last fall put two nationally-known Democrats into the same Democrat-dominated district, leaving Veysey with a tough job of raising money and attention. Republicans had to combine Ohio’s 18 districts into 16, and tilted the map toward the GOP. But critics are saying not only does Ohio’s Congressional map likely mean a dozen Republicans versus four Democrats, but the partisan gerrymandering creates very safe seats for both parties and little competition between the parties. Catherine Turcer is with Ohio Citizen Action, which has been working on reforming the way the maps are drawn. "That means that competition is only in the primary. And so we actually have some seats here in Ohio that it’s very clear it’s going to be over in March." Turcer says "some seats" actually is closer to most of them. She predicts 14 out of 16 contests will be decided in the March primary. David Cohen is with the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron. He takes Turcer's predictions a step further. "I think 15 will be decided by what happens on March 6," Cohen says. "Gerrymandering is legal if it’s done right, and in Ohio, we have a map that was partisan gerrymandered to the extreme, in a state that really is 50-50 in terms of party identification." Cohen says the only district that appears up for grabs is the 16th, where once again two members of Congress are battling it out. But since Republican Jim Renacci and Democrat Betty Sutton are from different parties, that fight will happen in November. B ut after the primary, Cohen says there are likely to be few surprises in the other 15 districts. And in two districts – the 8th, where House Speaker John Boehner is running, and the 11th, where Representative Marcia Fudge is on the ballot – the only contest is the primary because there are no major party opponents in the fall. The map candidates are running under is a compromise. The first map infuriated Democrats so much they started a petition drive to take it to the ballot, which would have meant a chaotic election for Congress this year. But the party was already getting signatures for an attempt to repeal an election reform law, so its resources were stretched thin. Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern blames his colleagues in the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "You literally have to pay people to collect signatures when you’re up against a hard deadline," Redfern says. "And the 'D-Trip,' our friends in Washington – our so-called friends in Washington – were pretty stingy in the days before Christmas, didn’t fund the effort. We fell short of the signatures, and I was sorely, and remain sorely disappointed by that." In the end, 25 Democrats voted for a compromise with Republicans to alter the disputed map slightly and combine two primaries into one. Republicans have said they feel the Congressional map is fair, and that Democrats could have changed the map-drawing process in 2010 by voting for a bill from Republican then-Sen. Jon Husted. But Redfern says he is committed to working toward a change in the way the maps are drawn in the future.