INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Democrats running for Congress will likely have a tougher time under a new district maps that give Republicans the upper hand for seven of the state's nine congressional seats after the GOP held just four going into the last election.
The Indiana House voted 62-31 mostly along party lines Thursday to give final legislative approval to the redistricting plan and send it to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is expected to sign it.
The plan shifts several Republican-leaning areas into northern Indiana's 2nd District, narrowly won last year by Democrat Joe Donnelly. It also appears to strengthen the GOP's hold on southern Indiana's 9th District - captured in 2010 by Republican Todd Young - by extending it further north to include heavily GOP Johnson County just south of Indianapolis.
Republicans defend the new districts as being more compact and keeping more counties together than the redistricting plan implemented in 2001 by Democrats, who then controlled the once-a-decade redistricting based on census figures.
Mike McDaniel, a former state Republican chairman, said the state's typical political leanings give the GOP an advantage.
"That's what you get when you draw these maps in a compact geographic way," McDaniel said. "The only way it was not that way was that Democrats went out of their way to gerrymander a lot of districts last time around."
Democrats argue the redistricting plan is aimed at protecting the state's six Republican congressmen and helping the GOP win Donnelly's seat. But they see an opening in that many of those GOP congressmen have had their district boundaries change significantly.
"The problem with the way they've tinkered with the maps is that some incumbents now have to go and introduce themselves into large swaths of their districts," state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker said.
Democrats hit a high-water mark by holding five of the state's nine congressional seats after the 2006 and 2008 elections. But Young and Larry Bucshon won back two of those seats for Republicans last year, and GOP candidate Jackie Walorski has already announced another bid for the seat she narrowly lost to Donnelly.
Donnelly is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Lugar.