With the legislature punting to the state Supreme Court on drawing new congressional districts, there now is a greater chance that some candidates in the 5th Congressional District could wake up in February to find they no longer are living in the 5th CD.

Democrat Dan Roberti of Kent and Republicans Mark Greenberg of Litchfield and Andrew Roraback of Goshen are the candidates who seem best-insulated from all but the most radical of new maps that a court-appointed special master could concoct.

How likely is it that redistricting could effectively end someone else’s campaign? Ask Democrats and Republicans, and you’ll get very different answers.

Democrats are insisting that a minimalist approach is the way to go. Yeah, they say, the current 5th is a little weird, the result of a grand compromise between the parties 10 years ago when the state lost a seat. But they say it is politically fair, since Democrats won the district three times and the GOP twice since 2002.

They are encouraged by the court’s assertion yesterday that redistricting is “quintessentially a legislative function.” If the court wants to show deference, it can rubber-stamp the Democratic map, which makes minimal changes from 10 years ago.

Ah, but the GOP says why stick to a map that was drawn mainly to set up a fair fight in 2002 between two incumbents, Democrat Jim Maloney and Republican Nancy Johnson?

The GOP is encouraged by the fact that the court took its suggestion and announced it intends to name a special master to draw a new map, rather than simply accept a version offered by the Democrats and Republicans.

By taking steps to name a special master, as well as instructing the legislature to keep working on drawing a map, is the court hinting to Democrats that they be more open to a compromise? That’s how some Republicans are reading the legal tea leaves.

But handicapping the Supreme Court always is dicey. (See Bysiewicz, Susan.)

Will a special master show as much deference to the 5th District’s field of eight candidates in drawing a new boundary as did the Democratic and Republican legislators on the deadlocked redistricting commission? Both parties made their proposals with care to keep everyone’s hometown in the district.

The facts are that seven of the eight candidates in the 5th live in a town that borders another district, though only five of them are in towns likely to come into play if a court-appointed special master starts to play with the oddly-shaped district.

Those five are Democrats Chris Donovan of Meriden and Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Republicans and Justin Bernier of Plainville, Mike Clark of Farmington and Lisa Wilson-Foley of Simsbury. (For the record, there is no legal requirement a candidate live in the district, just the state.)

So far, Democrats on the redistricting panel are digging in, opposing changes sought by the GOP that would make the 5th a friendlier place for a Republican (though it still would appear to slightly tilt Democratic.) The Democrats have their own favorite in the race: Donovan, the speaker of the House.

Meriden, however, is a community that borders the 1st and the 3rd, making it susceptible to a shift to another district. So is neighboring Cheshire, the home of Esty, a former state legislator.

By hanging tough to give the speaker the best shot at winning the open seat in 2012, are Democrats are opening the door to a special master knocking him out of the district?

Democratic CD map

The GOP calls the 5th (in red) a gerrymander.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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