By VIC SPROUSE
CHARLESTON -- The freight train is coming.
Yet, no one on the Democratic side can hear it yet.
What is it?
The 2010 Census.
Well, not the people coming to knock on your door, but the redistricting that will have to occur because of it.
And, no matter what way you slice it, even the crafty and wily leader of redistricting on the Democratic side, Sen. Walt Helmick, won't be able to juggle the jigsaw puzzle without losing major ground for the Democrats in the 2012 election.
So, why in the world am I talking about 2012? Well, because every senator running today will have to look ahead to see what changes will come to their district soon after they take office.
Imagine this ...
As many senators from Monongalia County as Kanawha? The first time in the history of West Virginia where the once powerful and heavily populated McDowell County has no senator?
McDowell County without a senator, but Roane County with one? And, Berkeley County with two?
Or how about Sen. Charles Trump from Morgan County? Or Sen. Jerry Mezzatesta from Hampshire? OK, no, that's not going to happen.
But, the craziness I describe above is very much possible and almost probable.
I'm an engineer and love numbers, so I couldn't resist extrapolating the 2006 Census information to 2010 and redrawing the Senate districts based upon it.
And, WOW. Even I was surprised at what happened.
Most people forget in the 2000 redistricting, with Southern Democrats in control of the Senate, they were able to keep two more Southern senators who were in borderline population districts, because, well, they were Democrats.
But, the numbers during the 2010 Census will be too great for even the master Democratic planners to pull off.
OK, without delving too much into the minutia of districts, let's look at the big picture and the major problem areas for the Democrats (there really is only ONE problem area for Republicans that I will outline below).
Problem No. 1 for the Dems -- Kanawha County.
I solidly place Kanawha County in Democratic territory. With the exception of a few of us lucky Republicans who have found success here, Kanawha County is normally the Democrats to lose.
Kanawha County loses one senator. And, most likely you have to combine Kanawha (projected 188,000 in population in 2010) with Roane County (15,000) to make up the difference.
Depending on how you split it, the two districts that will cover a Kanawha-Roane District is a split where two seats are predominately Democrat (rural Kanawha and Roane) and two are predominately Republican (a metro district that includes the Interstate 64 Corridor from Cross Lanes to Charleston).
Let's face, Senate Dems in Kanawha County win because they do so well in Eastern Kanawha County. Take away Eastern Kanawha and add in Cross Lanes and ouch ... not a good scenario for most Democrats. And, at the minimum, those seats are a battleground every two years.
So, for the DEMS -- minus TWO.
Problem area No. 2 -- Mingo/McDowell
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Could anyone have imagined 60 years ago when McDowell County had 100,000 people that Mingo and McDowell would be fighting for ONE Senator? Geez. But, that's exactly what will happen.
Basically, the current 6th District that includes a part of Wayne, McDowell, Mingo and a part of Mercer drops so significantly in population that they now must come over and take all of Mercer. In other words, Mercer becomes the 800-pound gorilla of District 6.
This actually puts a Republican like John Shott in a tough seat to hold, but if he wins big in Mercer he can still overcome the major Democratic advantage of Mingo/McDowell. Or, even worse for the Dems, if we can actually find a Republican in Mingo County ... can you imagine a Republican out of Mingo County who is strong in Mercer?
What's even more problematic for the Dems? Unless Truman Chafin moves out of Kanawha County ... err, Mingo ... and gets a third house in Mercer County, either he or the-free-state-of-MacDowell County Sen. John Pat Fanning is most likely a goner to either a Democrat or Republican from Mercer in the 2012/14 elections.
Let's put it this way, whatever way you slice it, Mercer will keep their senator and either Mingo or McDowell will lose one of theirs. Phewww ... whatever scenario plays out, it's not good for the Democrats to know they will have to battle to hold a district that was once theirs and theirs alone.
So, for the Dems -- MINUS ONE.
Problem area #3, 4 and 5 -- The Eastern Panhandle.
Why so many problem areas for the Dems? Well, because this area is growing so rapidly, there really is no way to cut it, without putting the Democrats in bad, bad shape.
Currently, the Democrats run two nearly insane districts, the 14th and 15th, from Preston to Mineral county (the 14th) and from Marlinton to Martinsburg (the 15th).
With the growth in the Eastern Panhandle, there is no way the 14th and 15th can continue. The 16th will shrink to Jefferson (50,000+) and now take only 55,000+ from Berkeley. And, most likely, even though the more Democratic parts will likely be included in the district at the behest of the current Sen. John Unger from there ... this will continue to be the toss-up district that it is now with an influx of more and more Independents.
So, the 16th? NO CHANGE.
But, the 15th. Ahhh, the 15th. It will warm the hearts of Republicans.
Most likely you'll have the heavily Republican parts of Berkeley with 55,000 people, heavily Republican Morgan (17,000), Hampshire County (24,000) and 10,000 souls from either Hardy or Mineral.
My guess here is that the Democrats will do their best to cut their losses and include a portion of Mineral in the 15th and go ahead and cede the district to a Republican from Berkeley and another Republican from either Hampshire or Morgan.
So, for the Dems -- MINUS TWO.
The 14th is also a big, big problem for the Democrats, especially if current Sen.-elect Bob Williams is not in the race. You most likely have to include the current 14th of Mineral, Preston, Grant, Taylor, Barbour and Tucker (98,000 total) in this district, along with getting another 8-10,000 people from somewhere else, possibly Hardy. So, it pretty much stays the same toss-up district that it currently is.
The 14th? NO CHANGE.
Wait, so why in the world does a district that stays the same (with one Dem and one Repub) hurt the Democrats so badly?
Well, because the remnants of the old Helmick-Barnes distict 15 that ran from Marlinton to Martinsburg must now go over and gobble up all of Upshur (Republican) and maybe even take a swath of Greenbrier County (also Republican leaning).
So, the old 15th's core of Randolph/Pocahontas/Pendleton/Hardy (~50,000 people left in 2010), must now pick up heavily Republican Upshur (24,000) and possibly Greenbrier (maybe as much as 25 of the 35,000 people) making a district that was already beginning to trend Republican, maybe go all Republican.
In addition, this mashes togther several districts in the central part of the state that run from Fayette to Marion (what's left of the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, and 13th) in a way that will be nearly impossible for the Democrats to cut without cutting even MORE Republican districts.
The Remnants of the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th? MINUS THREE.
So, let's count them up here ...
Potential losses of two in Kanawha, one in McDowell/Mingo, two in the Eastern Panhandle, and another three in the mismash of the central part of the state?
Count 'em ... EIGHT potential losses for the Democrats in the 2012 Redistricting. And, that's with the Democrats controlling the Senate going in ...
That's how bad the 2010 Census is looking for the Democrats.
Of course, no one is saying the Republicans will win everyone one of those seats.
But, what I am saying is that EIGHT seats currently either not in play or heavy Democrat leans will now be toss-ups or lean Republican. Of those, two are solid Republican pickups, three are heavy Republican leans, two are toss-ups and one is a Democrat lean.
The Republican's problem areas? The ONLY potential loss would be in the 10th District the Mercer County seat held by John Shott, who took the seat with Don Caruth died earlier this year.
Can you imagine the earthquake ripping the temple's tapestry down the middle if a Republican actually represents Mingo and McDowell counties for the first time since 1930? Oh, the humanity!
This is simple math. Because the areas of growth are areas that lean Republican and the areas of tremendous loss are Democratic strongholds, the census will do more for the Republican cause than same-sex marriage, abortions, guns, the economy or just about any other issues.
The Republicans must stand ready to capitalize on this by winning seats 2010 so they can be ready to challenge for control of the Senate in 2012.
Dems in the Senate have to wake up with night sweats considering just how bad redistricting would be should the Republicans pull off a stunner and multiple Senate seats in 2010. Holy mackerel.
If this did occur, the redistricting could be done in a way the Republicans would hold the majority in the Legislature for the next 50-75 years.
But, even if that doesn't happen, population will put the Republicans in a position to challenge for control in 2014, if not earlier.
Sprouse is the former Minority Leader of the West Virginia Senate. He resides in Cross Lanes and currently owns a consulting company in Charleston.