When Maryland Republican Party leaders unveil their plan to redraw the state's eight congressional districts this weekend, the biggest surprise may be that the political blueprint already looks familiar.
In fact, the GOP plan offers only modest changes to the congressional boundary lines that have been in place since the last maps were drawn a decade ago, according to Republican sources.
Details of the Republican proposal are scheduled to be made public tomorrow in Ocean City, where state party leaders, lawmakers and loyalists will gather for their seasonal convention and strategy session.
States are required under federal law to redraw their congressional districts every 10 years by using the latest census figures to ensure that each member of Congress represents an equal number of people.
By current population counts, the state's ideal congressional district will contain about 598,700 residents, about 71,600 more people than in the 1980 redistricting makeup. Shifts, increases and decreases in population make the redistricting process politically volatile and can result in unusually drawn jurisdictions.
The General Assembly will hold a special session Sept. 24 to review a redistricting plan worked out by a five-member advisory panel appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The governor's panel, which has only one Republican member, is expected to lean heavily in favor of Democratic political interests.
"I would hope that would be the case," said Nathan Landow, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. "I'm not sure what the outcome will be, but I hope the Democratic Party benefits."
Landow said the Democratic Party is not engaged in developing its own redistricting plan and will offer assistance to the governor's group and to incumbent Democratic congressmen.
Although any group can put forth a redistricting plan, Republicans are counting on their proposal to challenge the legality of the Schaefer plan in federal court by claiming the GOP design is more equitable.
Party leaders and sources familiar with the redistricting proposal concede that the overall Republican strategy to capture more congressional seats hinges on recruiting strong candidates and beefing up voter rolls rather than dramatically redrawing district lines.
In that respect, the Republican maps are likely to differ far less from the current district lines than those under consideration by the Schaefer panel and by individual Democratic incumbents. In the ongoing struggle for political survival, the Democrats are faced with protecting their five incumbents representatives in areas of rapidly changing demographics.
Republicans say they want to take advantage of population trends that work against Democrats in some regions to boost their political holdings.
"We won't offer radical departures from the current plan," said Mark R. Frazer, a Calvert County official who chairs the Republican redistricting committee. "I don't even like to refer to it as a GOP plan, but as a good-government plan," he added.
Frazer conceded that while Republicans are being careful to avoid the appearance of creating "gerrymandered" or contrived districts in their favor, the GOP plan is not meant to clear the way for Democrats.
It would be disingenuous for me to say that we would do something to harm Republicans," he said.
State Republican Party chair Joyce Terhes said the plan is not designed to "shove any incumbent anywhere."
"It's not about how you are going to gerrymander districts to protect incumbents," she said. "That's what the Democrats have been doing for years." For that reason, she said, the GOP should have greater appeal to the public.
Terhes said Republican recruiting efforts -- and not district plans -- will be used to unseat Democrats Tom McMillen in the 4th District and Beverly B. Byron in the 6th District. She said the strongholds of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, 3rd, and Rep. Kweisi Mfume, 7th, are likely to stay in Democratic hands.
The most significant change under Republican consideration is the creation of a redesigned 5th District in Prince George's County -- once considered the stronghold of Democrat Rep. Steny H. Hoyer -- to enable a minority candidate to win a congressional seat from that part of the state.
The number of blacks and Hispanics has increased in Prince George's, particularly within the beltway that circles Washington.
Democrats say they also are committed to drawing a new so-called "minority" district in Prince George's. But, because they are concerned with keeping Hoyer in office, they will have to redraw boundaries to give minorities a chance to elect their candidate while keeping enough voters in another district to return Hoyer to office.
Unconcerned about Hoyer's continued political longevity, Republicans claim that their minority district proposal will be more fair than the one likely to be proposed by the Democrats.
The Republican plan also calls for slight changes in the 1st District, which currently encompasses the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and parts of Harford County.