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Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman surveys the 2022 midterm election landscape - "The Takeout"

Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman on "The Takeout"
Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman on "Th... 46:32

In the 2022 midterm elections, there will be far fewer competitive House districts due to gerrymandering and geographic polarization, says election forecaster and senior editor at the Cook Political Report Dave Wasserman.

"[Americans] want to live in places where the vast majority of their neighbors and friends are going to agree with their political and cultural values," Wasserman told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast. "When we've got deeply red and deeply blue neighborhoods, it makes it easier for the partisans who are in charge of these [redistricting] maps to slice and dice the electorate in ways that polarize districts. And the biggest victim in all of this is competition."

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At least 19 states have passed new congressional maps so far, and Republicans will draw the districts for 187 U.S. House seats, compared to 75 seats under Democratic control. The remaining seats are controlled by independent or bipartisan commissions.

Increased partisan control of redistricting efforts means Republicans and Democrats will be focused on just a handful of truly competitive congressional districts. In those other heavily liberal and conservative districts, more extreme candidates will likely have the advantage in the primaries, when the most motivated, partisan voters tend to turn out.

"By the time this process is over, we could see the number of competitive seats winnowed by something like a third," Wasserman said. "And when that's true, you've got parties pouring tens of millions of dollars into each of these races. But they tend not to care who gets nominated and the rest of them, which is how you end up with a lot of very polemic candidates who only have the incentive of winning a primary." 

With so many congressional GOP candidates seeking former President Donald Trump's endorsement in 2022, Wasserman said that loyalty to Mr. Trump is going to be a central issue for Republican voters.

"When it comes to the Republicans who voted for impeachment, they're automatically in a bind with a Republican base where Trump has 90% approval," Wasserman said.

He added that a Trump endorsement could be less effective in a competitive race because the GOP candidates will need to have a broader political appeal. "That's tended to make Republican primaries frankly a little less interesting because they're less issue-driven, and more loyalty-driven."

Redistricting for partisan advantage, or "gerrymandering" has a long history, and Wasserman explained how the name came about.  

"Governor Elbridge Gerry, back in the early 19th century in Massachusetts, wanted to pass a plan that that would highly advantage his party," Wasserman said. "It actually didn't end up going quite as intended, but the resulting district was part of a famous political cartoon that labeled it a salamander."

Highlights:

Origin of "gerrymandering": "Governor Elbridge Gerry, back in the early 19th century in Massachusetts, wanted to pass a plan that that would highly advantage his party. And it actually didn't end up going quite as intended, but the resulting district was part of a famous political cartoon that labeled it a salamander."

Public interest in redistricting: "I think there's been an explosion in public interest and participation in the process this time around, largely driven on the left because there was, you know, perception mostly true after 2011, that gerrymandering was responsible for Republican dominance in the House and in a lot of state legislatures. They had a great political cycle in 2010 and the first Obama midterm, they took over 600 legislative seats away from Democrats and got to redraw almost five times as many congressional districts in 2011. So Democrats were aggrieved and they started agitating for reform."

Congressional maps: "These maps have the power to predetermine political outcomes in November, in maybe over 90% of districts around the country... We have an unprecedented geographic polarization in the electorate right now where Americans are, essentially, they want to live in places where the vast majority of their neighbors and friends are going to agree with their political and cultural values. And so, you know, in the 2020 election, only 41% of voters lived in counties that were within 20 points in the presidential election. Keep in mind, back in 1992, 61% of voters lived in counties that were somewhat competitive. So, you know, when we've got deeply red and deeply blue neighborhoods, it makes it easier for the partisans who are in charge of these maps to slice and dice the electorate in ways that polarize districts. And the biggest victim in all of this is competition."

Redistricting results: "I think by the time this process is over, we could see the number of competitive seats winnowed by something like a third. And what that does is it means the House is decided by a very narrow sliver of the 435 districts that are genuinely competitive. And when that's true, you've got parties pouring tens of millions of dollars into each of these races. But they tend not to care who gets nominated and the rest of them, which is how you end up with a lot of very polemic candidates who only have the incentive of winning a primary. And how do you want a primary these days by saying or doing something that goes viral? Right? And so I expect that we are going to see more candidates who fit that description."

House GOP candidates and Trump: "You know, fealty to Donald Trump is probably the number one theme in Republican primaries today. And I say that mostly about these races for safe Republican open seats, because or, you know, when it comes to the Republicans who voted for impeachment, they're automatically in a bind with a Republican base where Trump has 90 percent approval. You get into the more competitive districts, which I, as I alluded to, is a smaller slice. And maybe that's less the case. Maybe the parties really are recruiting people that will have broader appeal. But for the most part, I think that's tended to make Republican primaries frankly a little less interesting because they're less issue driven and more loyalty driven."

Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
Show email: TakeoutPodcast@cbsnews.com
Twitter: @TakeoutPodcast
Instagram: @TakeoutPodcast
Facebook: Facebook.com/TakeoutPodcast

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