Democrats are entertaining a once-unlikely prospect: retaking the House majority by winning in the South.
The party is newly invigorated about its chance to pick up a seat each in Alabama, Louisiana and maybe even Georgia. After years of Republicans shutting them out of the congressional mapmaking process in nearly every Southern state, Democrats have turned to the courts to claw back what they saw as nefarious GOP gerrymandering.
It may be starting to pay off.
Democrats are hoping court rulings will allow for new lines that could redefine Black voter representation and give their party an echo of the kind of Southern footprint it had in decades past. It’s impossible to know how many seats could become competitive, but the party is hoping a handful may come into play and that new maps could even threaten the likes of Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and close McCarthy ally Garret Graves
(R-La.). Some of that process could even happen in time for the 2024 election — when House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries needs to flip only five seats to claim the speaker’s gavel.
It’s unlikely that major change will kick in before next November. But there’s a real chance that the Supreme Court’s bombshell ruling last month, which declined to whittle down the Voting Rights Act, could reverberate throughout the deep South in the next few election cycles.
Despite a redistricting brawl already underway in Alabama, Democrats think they have a real chance to grow their numbers. Other court battles in Texas, Florida and South Carolina could yield more gains.
“Who would have thought?” said Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), a senior Congressional Black Caucus member. “As took place in the ‘60s, when the South led with voting rights and civil rights … the South could save democracy again.”
Meeks is not alone in strategizing how to take seats in places like Alabama and Louisiana if Democrats win battles for new maps before November. Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this week he’s personally made calls to inquire about the fate of Alabama’s maps. And senior Democratic officials have begun early candidate recruitment in both states.
“I’ve been on the phone recruiting members. I have worked with states on their recruitment,” said South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, Congress’ most powerful Southern Democrat. Clyburn is making plans in his home state in case courts side with Democrats on a racial discrimination case centered on the district held by Mace, with the Supreme Court expected to hear that case this fall.
Republicans say Democrats are exaggerating their opportunity, given the steep political and legal hurdles. GOP lawmakers in many of those states are resisting changes to their maps, drawing out the timeline on new districts.
Take Alabama, where the conservative-led Supreme Court’s ruling led to a redraw of the state’s maps by 2024 to give more power to Black voters. Despite the strict order, state lawmakers have so far drawn maps that lean Republican and aren’t actually Black-majority districts — likely fueling even more court battles.
“Good luck,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) of Democrats’ plans to sue in pursuit of more seats in the South. The party’s brand, he said, is too toxic to win even if they secure more favorable maps. “Outside of the biggest cities in the South, I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in heck of winning a seat.”
In addition to Alabama, Democrats hope that the courts will force two other closely watched states, Louisiana and Georgia, to redraw district lines in the coming months or years.