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A new playbook for gerrymandering

America’s rapid demographic changes — its increasing diversity, fast-growing cities and extreme partisan sorting — are changing how Republicans and Democrats try to lock in political power through gerrymandering.

Why it matters: Narrow congressional majorities and close elections create even more incentive for parties to capitalize on the redistricting process.

The big picture: Democrats have the demographics, but Republicans have the political power — putting them each at a disadvantage in places that would seem like their home turf.

  • The growth of big, diverse cities in the Sun Belt should benefit Democrats. But because they’re so far out of power in important states, gerrymandering New York and Illinois may be Democrats' only shot at preserving a House majority.
  • And while Republicans are getting creative about diluting the power of big blue cities, they may have to hand Democrats some new seats in the Deep South.

Swing districts are dwindling, thanks to what demographers call “the big sort” — the phenomenon of like-minded people choosing to live close to each other, even down to the neighborhood level.

  • "As people sort themselves into these different locations, [districts are] going to get less competitive — you're going to have solid blue districts in the cities and solid red districts in rural areas," Edward Foley, an election and redistricting expert at Ohio State University, told Axios.
  • As districts turn redder or bluer post-redistricting, more extreme candidates could thrive.

Cities are booming. Of the 20 fastest-growing major metro areas over the past decade, 16 voted for President Biden in 2020, according to Brookings Institution demographer William Frey.

  • But nine of those metro areas are blue cities in red states, including several in Texas. Republicans could use their control over the redistricting process in those places to pack Democrats into a small number of districts, minimizing the number of suburban seats that might turn blue.
  • On the other hand, GOP-controlled legislatures are also considering “cracking” cities like Louisville, Ky. and Omaha, Neb. — diluting Democratic votes by spreading them out, instead of by concentrating them together, as Politico reported.

The sunbelt is diversifying. Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina saw the biggest increase in their Black populations over the past 10 years, while Texas, Florida and Arizona gained the most Hispanics, Frey said.

  • Republicans control redistricting in all of those states except Arizona. Gerrymandering could help them hold onto seats in those states — but could also land them in court for violating the Voting Rights Act.
  • Some solid-red states, including Alabama and Louisiana, might also gain new predominantly Black districts during redistricting this year, which could be a foot in the door for Democrats even in states that aren’t likely to become national battlegrounds any time soon.

The bottom line: "The demographics would seem to favor Democrats as new state and congressional districts get drawn on the basis of the 2020 Census," Frey said.

  • But politicians — not demographers— are most often the ones drawing the lines.

National parks "drowning in tourists"

Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

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Facebook's next chapter: Build the "metaverse"

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

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CDC asks the vaccinated to help save the unvaccinated from themselves

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

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Least persuadable unvaccinated Americans are largely white and Republican

Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

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Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

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Simone Biles won't defend Olympic title at gymnastics all-around final in Tokyo

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.

— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Eric Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

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Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Katie Ledecky took home the gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday evening, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Driving the news: The long-distance 1,500m race has traditionally only been available to men at the Olympics, and the Tokyo Games mark the first time that it has been open to women.

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