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Pennsylvania

Dem seat in Pa. imperiled by census outcome

| Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

Pennsylvania will lose a congressional district before the next election and, with Republicans controlling the General Assembly, it's a safe bet a seat held by a Democrat will get the ax, analysts say.

"It will be a political calculation when it's made," said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

The Census Bureau on Tuesday released the first data from the 2010 Census. State leaders use population totals every decade to redistribute the House of Representatives' 435 seats among the 50 states.

Although Pennsylvania's population increased by 3.4 percent since 2000, to about 12.7 million people, the national increase was 9.7 percent, to 308.7 million people as of April 1. Consequently, the state has a smaller percentage of the nation's population than it did 10 years ago. Congressional seats are distributed based on the relative population size of each state, so Pennsylvania will lose one of its 19 seats.

"Today is a sad day for Pennsylvania as we are faced with the reality that we have lost a voice in Congress," state Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason said.

Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau, said the state totals reflect a long-term trend of population shifting from the North and East to the South and West. Pennsylvania and nine other states mainly in the North and East will lose 12 congressional seats to eight states in the South and West.

Madonna said the district Republicans most likely will target is represented by Johnstown Democrat Mark Critz, but districts held by Democrats Tim Holden and Jason Altmire could get attention.

GOP leaders will want to shore up existing Republican-held districts and increase the chances of Republicans being elected in districts held by Democrats, he said. Republicans gained several districts near Holden's mid-state district.

"It wouldn't shock me if they go after Holden and leave Critz alone," Madonna said.

Critz declined comment.

Based on population estimates, the districts with the largest losses appear to be those held by Democratic Reps. Mark Critz of Johnstown and Mike Doyle of Forest Hills, said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County. It is hard to imagine a redistricting map that doesn't merge two congressional districts in Western Pennsylvania, Arneson said.

"It's hard to imagine, based on what we know today, a (redistricting) plan doesn't envision two seats being combined in the western part of the state," he said.

Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, said another likely scenario is that Republicans will break up Critz's conservative district.

"I think it's pretty safe to assume that we will lose a seat in the western part of the state," he said.

Instead of merging Critz's district with Doyle's, however, Republicans might merge parts of it with Republican Tim Murphy's South Hills district and other parts with Altmire's North Hills district. That would give Murphy a firmer hold of his district and give Republicans a better chance of retaking the district that Altmire of McCandless won from Republican Melissa Hart in 2006, DiSarro said.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said it's likely Republicans will go after both Critz's and Holden's districts. Both are strongly conservative and have a significant number of registered Republicans, he said.

Holden's district is surrounded by Republican-held districts, so the question would be whether the Democratic voters are concentrated or easily distributed among the surrounding districts. For the "squiggly" district Critz represents, "you could probably do some easy merging," Borick said.

The Census Bureau is scheduled to release neighborhood-level population figures from the 2010 census in February. Those numbers will give leaders a clearer idea of what they can accomplish when redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social & Urban Research, said redrawing the state legislative districts is "going to be real, real interesting." Based on population estimates, it appears Allegheny County will lose one seat and part of another district to the eastern and south-central parts of the state, he said.

The five-member commission that will oversee state redistricting, however, includes three Allegheny County legislators -- House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. Pileggi is the fourth member. They will pick the fifth member.

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