When you exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike just north of Pennsylvania, on Main Street in working-class Norristown, you’re in the overwhelmingly Democratic 13th congressional district — at least for a couple of miles. The help-wanted signs are in Spanish; people walk past the Premier Barber Institute, bail bondsmen, and the 99-cent stores wearing branded short-sleeve shirts from their chain-store jobs. But come around a corner and up and hill and suddenly the neighborhoods turn leafy and green. Suburban-looking dads walk large dogs with flowing tresses. The houses are lovely and set back from the road. This three-quarter-mile stretch is in one of the nation’s most infamously gerrymandered districts, Pennsylvania’s reliably Republican seventh, a one-time swing district so wildly drawn that it resembles Donald Duck kicking Goofy. Signs warn drivers not to tailgate.
Then the neighborhood shifts again and the demographic becomes slightly more downscale. A beer depot and gun store let you know you’re in Pennsylvania’s sixth, another Republican district, which divided suburban Montgomery and Berks counties to create a seat just competitive enough to tantalize Democratic hopes, without fear of actually going blue.
One road, one mile, three different neighborhoods, three different districts — each one surgically crafted by partisan mapmakers to maximize Republican advantage. It’s detail like this — the sophisticated packing and cracking of Democratic voters, the squiggly, backtracking district boundaries — that has made it possible for a largely blue state to send an overwhelmingly Republican delegation to Congress (currently 13 of 18 seats), even in years when Democrats get more votes.