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DeSantis draws congressional map dramatically expanding GOP’s edge in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a new congressional map that would create four more Republican-leaning districts and completely wipe out Democrats’ national redistricting advantage.

The map — which carves up a Black-held district — was released Wednesday afternoon, just days after state lawmakers said they would defer to the GOP governor on the new congressional boundaries. The Republican-controlled state Legislature drew maps with less of a GOP advantage, but DeSantis vetoed them last month.

DeSantis’ map would create 20 Republican seats and 8 Democratic ones based on 2020 electoral data, according to Matthew Isbell, a leading Florida-based Democratic data consultant who analyzed the maps Wednesday evening. Florida’s congressional delegation consists of 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the House. The state was apportioned an additional House seat after the 2020 Census.

“It’s so blatantly partisan,” Isbell said. “The only way you can create a 20-and-8 map… was to basically say screw Black representation.”

One top Republican in the Florida Legislature privately agreed, telling NBC News that the maps were probably drawn with partisan intent by DeSantis — a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate who faces re-election this year.

DeSantis has said his administration is complying with the law, which prohibits partisan gerrymandering.

Court challenges appear inevitable, but there is little time to change the map before the August primary in the lead-up to the November midterms.

Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida who studies elections, said DeSantis appeared to be inviting lawsuits. The governor’s map “is clearly being drawn to challenge the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has not struck down,” he told NBC News.

Despite controlling significantly less of the redistricting process nationally, Democrats had managed to cobble together some gains in states like New York this year. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Democrats have so far netted 1.5 seats, while eliminating 1.5 Republican seats nationally.

While the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature had advanced maps that slightly advantaged Republicans, DeSantis sought significant gains for his party; in particular, he demanded that lawmakers dismantle largely Black congressional districts and argued that the North Florida seat that ran from Tallahassee to Jacksonville held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a news conference in Miami. “That is wrong. That’s not the way we’ve governed in the state of Florida. And obviously that will be litigated.”

DeSantis’ map dissolves that seat, the state’s 5th Congressional District, into several Republican seats. Another seat with a significant number of Black voters, currently held by U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings in Orlando, also has its African American voting population watered down in DeSantis’s new map. That leaves the state with just one seat with a majority Black voting population.

In private moments, Republicans familiar with DeSantis’ map say they’re uncomfortable with the way he proposed eliminating Lawson’s seat. And they think the map probably runs afoul of Florida’s prohibition on partisan gerrymandering because of how DeSantis drew the Tampa Bay-area 13th Congressional District — a swing seat held by Democrat Charlie Crist in the Pinellas County city of St. Petersburg.

DeSantis’ map makes that seat more Republican-leaning by removing voters from Democratic areas of St. Petersburg and shipping them to a Tampa-based seat across the bay, the 14th Congressional District, which covers more of Hillsborough County.

In the last round of redistricting a decade ago, Republicans tried the same maneuver by shifting voters from Democratic areas of St. Petersburg to Tampa. But the Florida Supreme Court stopped them, ruling it was evidence of intentional partisan gerrymandering. The court essentially forbade lawmakers from crossing Tampa Bay.

“None of the Legislature’s maps did this, and there’s a reason for this: The courts told us you can’t and they said we can’t because it’s for partisan purposes,” said one top Republican involved in the Florida redistricting effort.

“If DeSantis wants to go to court and defend this, I hope he doesn’t mind getting deposed,” the Republican said.

Under Florida’s Fair Districts constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010, lawmakers are forbidden from drawing districts that intentionally favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties.

When asked Tuesday what he’s doing to ensure that the law is followed, DeSantis deferred to his legal team.

“Everything’s been done by our legal office and attorneys and all that,” he said. “I mean, the people that were involved will go and testify in front of the Legislature about the product that was created.”

Florida legislative leaders are likely to rubber-stamp the new map because DeSantis has already vetoed their proposals and told them he wants his version with minimal or no changes, according to Republicans familiar with the dynamics in the state Capitol. Also, DeSantis has sky-high approval ratings with Republican voters that rival or surpass former President Donald Trump’s in some polls, and the GOP lawmakers who run the Legislature are keenly aware of his power.

The president of the state Senate, Wilton Simpson, is leaving office due to term limits and running for the statewide post of Agriculture Commissioner. Florida Republican insiders say he wants DeSantis’ endorsement, and he has no desire to cross DeSantis.

“Why would you want to upset the leader of the party?” said Jamie Miller, a former executive director for the Republican Party of Florida. “I don’t know if it has as much to do with the endorsement as the fact that, if you’re on the ticket running with the governor, you’re going to want to do things like travel, be on stage with him and be on mail with him.”

Miller said he believed DeSantis’ map is legal and that the existing congressional districts were unfairly drawn to advantage Democrats by a Democratic-leaning Florida Supreme Court, which is now solidly Republican.

During his Tuesday news conference in Miami with Simpson, DeSantis was coy when asked why he hadn’t yet endorsed Simpson.

“Look,” DeSantis said as the audience at the press conference chuckled, “we’ve got some more work to do.”

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