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As we all know, the GOP is in the driver's seat when it comes to redistricting many of the nation's congressional seats. But the party needs to be careful not to fuss too much, as that can boomerang back at them.

Party leaders need only look at Pennsylvania, writes Jim O'Sullivan in the National Journal:

A prime example of what Westmoreland is hoping to avoid: Pennsylvania, where Republicans held the reins in the last redistricting. But the political boundaries they so painstakingly fashioned hardly produced a stable gain for the party. In the 107th Congress, before the new map took effect, the Keystone State's delegation had 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The state lost two seats in that redistricting, and the GOP plan initially gave Republicans a decided advantage: They held 12 of Pennsylvania's House seats to seven for the Democrats in the 108th Congress.

But the oscillating electorate soon reversed that advantage, and then reversed it again. After the 2006 elections that gave Democrats control of the House, Democrats held 11 of the state's 19 seats in the chamber. But they will give their in-state majority back when the new Congress takes office next month, and Republicans again hold 12 of Pennsylvania's House seats.

The lesson from Pennsylvania, for both parties, is to pad safe districts, funneling voters from the opposition party into as few districts as possible, rather than go for the maximum number of winnable seats. The temptation to grow overly aggressive can be even greater in swing states, where the parties try to gain more congressional seats instead of opting to consolidate and defend. That creates districts where the electorates are closely divided and lawmakers are vulnerable to every shift in the voting trends--a situation that has been especially pronounced in the last three election cycles, when Democrats picked up 55 seats in two consecutive elections only to see all of their gains (and then some) wiped out in November.

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