In California, a list of competitive congressional seats is already being compiled. And it could get worse.
Late last year, Democratic members of the state legislature killed an agreement to redraw the congressional districts after 2020. Without an agreement on the lines, the 2020 cycle could be unwieldy because there will be no political boundaries for races to determine voters in the districts. Redistricting races might not be held until 2022, giving a legislative fight over redistricting some respite.
Moreover, the lack of an agreement could mean that, in 2020, California voters would have only one incentive to vote in favor of major redistricting reform: Democratic incumbents, worried that Republican challengers could capitalize on their misguided redistricting, could sue to derail the legislative effort.
Indeed, if that happens, it would be difficult for Mr. Trump to win the support of Californians, especially in the historically Democratic San Fernando Valley. It would be the fourth California district Mr. Trump narrowly lost in 2016 — and Democrats are already flocking to run in it.
Interviews with several Democratic strategists in the state found that the California State Democratic Party has been contemplating lawsuits if the legislature fails to redraw the districts after 2020. The theory is that if Mr. Trump and other Republicans are able to appoint an independent commission to draw the new lines, that commission will favor Democratic candidates in the subsequent redistricting cycle — and thus destroy California’s Democratic congressional majorities in 2022.
“The goal is to blunt that lawsuit,” said Lou Vergara, a party strategist.
His analysis was well grounded: A recent study of the differences in voting patterns between districts in four California congressional districts found that the partisan voting share in a congressional district would generally range from 7.4 percent on the high end to about 1.4 percent in a district such as the one being represented by Representative Jim Costa, a Democrat. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently downgraded the Democratic nominee in the eighth district, Democrat Harley Rouda, from “Solid Democrat” to “Likely Democrat.” In the California State Assembly, the party’s 31st District, represented by Democrat Ed Chau, was rated a “Toss Up” by Cook.
“It’s a mentality, to be honest with you,” Mr. Vergara said of Democrats’ goal to weaken the congressional districts of members of the Republican majority. “It’s a paranoid mentality. They’re reading political tea leaves.”
Still, Mr. Vergara acknowledged that such litigation would be difficult to mount because of the possibility of running the entire state through its legislative process before the federal elections in 2020.