NEW ALBANY, Ohio (WCMH) — The early construction of Intel’s computer chip manufacturing facility is nestled on a plot of land in Ohio’s freshly redrawn 12th Congressional District.
Intel’s growing presence in Ohio is, at least in some ways, a result of bipartisan support from local, state and federal leaders for the eventual fab production sites. But David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, said the plant could become the center of political tug-of-war in future election years.
Looking ahead: Redistricting in 2022, 2024
“In normal circumstances, this district could balloon in population, and for 10 years, we will just watch it balloon, and then have to redraw Ohio with this new behemoth in mind,” Niven said.
Ohio’s 2022 redistricting process axed that possibility. Since the Ohio Supreme Court in June declared the Congressional maps put forth by the Republican-led Ohio Redistricting Commission as unconstitutional, lawmakers will have to redraw the lines again in 2024.
District 12 previously reached farther north and touched less of the east side of the state, but it now covers Delaware and Morrow counties and Licking County — where Intel is setting up shop — as well as parts of Franklin, Marion, Muskingum and Richland counties. It’s mostly rural central and eastern Ohio.
Intel could be a catalyst shifting where future lines are drawn, Niven said. The No. 1 rule in outlining congressional districts is balancing population growth, and since the plant is likely to usher in a swelling population, it will be a prime candidate for altering the district come 2024.
“We don’t need there to be massive new cities built in Licking County to say that. If there’s any change disproportionate across these districts, the lines are going to have to be tweaked to make those districts absolutely equal,” Niven said.
He added that population growth “friendly to Democrats” could be something lawmakers consider when drawing 2024 districts. But regardless of political affiliation, Niven said most leaders want big commercial projects under their jurisdiction “for the ability to say, ‘Look at the growth in my district.'”
Republican incumbent Rep. Troy Balderson is heavily favored in the current district, which has a partisan lean of plus-34 Republican, according to polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight.
“If Intel should happen to bring in 10,000 Democrats, Troy Balderson is still in a very safe seat,” Niven said.
What candidates say about Intel
Over the next two years, however, Balderson’s primary focus is on continuing to build relationships regionally with people connected to Intel’s project in Ohio, he said.
“People are just glowing about it, and they’re excited for these opportunities,” Balderson said.
Balderson is from Zanesville and was first elected to Congress in 2018, after time in both the Ohio Senate and House.
According to FEC filings and Center for Responsive Politics nonprofit OpenSecrets, Balderson has received at least $8,000 in donations from Intel-affiliated organizations — $5,000 came directly from Intel’s political action committee. Across the country during the 2022 election cycle, donations affiliated with Intel to federal candidates have gone to Democrats more than 68%, according to OpenSecrets.
Balderson is being challenged by Amy Rippel-Elton. She is a longtime resident of Newark who clinched the Democratic nomination in the May primary and has previously volunteered for the Ohio chapter of the campaign finance overhaul group Wolf-PAC.
The Ohio Democratic Party did not endorse Rippel-Elton.
She cited population growth as a big challenge she sees facing the district, referring to “growing pains” that she said will face local housing and other resources.
“I think, in the long run, it’s going to be a good thing. I think in the short term, it’s not,” Rippel-Elton said. “But we’ve had to go through them every time a major company has taken up in one of our areas.”
Construction at the plant is set to finish in 2025, sandwiching at least one more Congressional election cycle in between.