Savannah Morning News (GA) - June 5, 2011

Recent reports have trumpeted the vulnerability of John Barrow in the upcoming tug of war over redistricting.

One cited a National Journal piece and said the Savannah lawmaker "is in the No. 2 position on its list of most vulnerable members of Congress in 2012."

That's a bit overstated.

National Journal did put him on a list of what it termed the 10 House Democrats most endangered by the once-a-decade process.

But they were listed alphabetically by state and "not in any sort of ranked order," said Taylor West of the journal.

Of course, even making the journal's top 10 means it thinks he's got problems.

Soon we'll see whether he does, and, if so, how bad they are.

The Legislature reconvenes Aug. 15 to redraw district boundaries to reflect population changes shown by the 2010 census.

Republicans are in charge.

They must follow court interpretations of the U.S. Voting Rights Act and other rules, such as a mandate for nearly equal district populations. Otherwise, they can do almost whatever they want.

National Journal quotes an assessment by the Cook Political Report that cites a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The ruling said districts such as Barrow's - with less than 50 percent minority population - don't rate special protection under the act.

The Cook report said the Republicans can dilute his district's black population by dropping black precincts in Savannah and adding white Augusta suburbs.

The Peach Pundit blog suggested the GOP might add "all of Chatham County/Savannah" to Savannah Republican Rep. Jack Kingston's 1st District.

"The 1st is solidly Republican," the blog read, "and could absorb additional Democratic voters without endangering ... Kingston." That, it added, might move Barrow's Savannah home into Kingston's District. That's not a new trick; in 2005, Barrow moved to Savannah after the Legislature put his hometown of Athens into another district.

But such stuff is more easily described than done.

Each district needs about 692,000 people.

Thus Albany Democrat Sanford Bishop's district, which is adjacent to Kingston's, needs about 60,000 more. In contrast, Kingston's must shed about 29,000. Barrow's already has about the right population.

Bishop barely won Nov. 2, and Barrow turned back an unexpectedly strong GOP challenge.

So Republican map makers might consider undermining both of them by stripping them of Democrat-rich turf.

But the people there have to go somewhere.

Sure, some could get shuffled into Kingston's district.

But it needs to subtract people, not add them. And Kingston likely has enough clout in Atlanta to quash anything that would radically reshape it.

Moreover, the Voting Rights Act apparently bars any effort to sandbag Bishop, who is black, by diluting black voting strength in his district.

Meanwhile, the GOP also wants to shore up the 8th District, where Republican Austin Scott ousted veteran Democrat Jim Marshall. The 8th is adjacent to Bishop, Barrow and Kingston's districts.

Scott barely won in an election that pushed GOP congressional strength to a six-decade peak.

Drawing lines to reach for more seats runs the risk of spreading support too thinly. So Republicans may instead opt to consolidate their position.

Barrow has had a political bull's eye on his chest since he was first elected in 2004. Late next year, perhaps, his friends may be able to describe how he dodged yet another bullet.

But, this time it might be because the Republicans really didn't take very careful aim this summer.