We've gotten used to independent/bipartisan redistricting commissions delivering good news to the Democrats so far this redistricting season. For instance, California's the main case in point, but the Arizona map turned out better than expected as well. I suppose that run of luck had to end at some point, and it looks like it did just that with New Jersey. New Jersey is a bipartisan (not truly 'independent') process, with Democratic and GOP partisans holding equal seats and one ostensibly neutral tiebreaker (John Farmer, the dean of Rutgers Law School) having the decisive vote in the extreme likelihood that the two parties didn't compromise.
As we've seen over the last week, the parties had moved from their original bargaining positions (the Dems proposed a Leonard Lance/Scott Garrett mashup; the GOP had proposed a Bill Pascrell/Steve Rothman mashup) to consensus that there should be a "fair fight" district between Garrett and Rothman. The real question was, on whose turf would that fight be conducted? Farmer's decision, picking from one of the two maps, was that it should be fought mostly on Garrett's turf.
What the GOP did (PDF version of the proposed map here) is really pretty clever; they designed a map that seemed to, at first glance, deviate not a whole lot from the old lines (which I'd guess gave it the advantage in getting picked). In fact, the basic outlines of Garrett's old 5th and Rothman's old 9th are still there. Instead, the district that got vaporized was Pascrell's Paterson-based 8th. But they moved blue-collar Paterson into the 9th, which is where Pascrell lives ... and they moved next-door suburban Fair Lawn, which is where Rothman lives, into the 5th. (The new 8th, under the map's numbering scheme, is essentially the former 13th, the Latino-plurality district held by Albio Sires.)
So, Rothman's ostensible "fair fight" is in a district that's not only mostly Garrett's constituents, but also one that's 48 Obama/51 McCain, based on my entering it into Dave's Redistricting App. That's little improvement for the Dems from the old 5th, which was 45 Obama/54 McCain, and an uphill battle for Rothman. (The Bergen County part of the district, which is more familiar with Rothman, works out to 51 Obama/48 McCain, but that's balanced out by the rural counties in the state's northwest, which is where Garrett lives.)
[UPDATE: Dave Wasserman has had a variety of interesting tweets full of number-crunching, including that the new 5th is in fact 79 percent Garrett's turf and 21 percent Rothman's. But this may be the most interesting one: the new 9th is 54 percent Rothman's turf, and only 43 percent Pascrell's. The interesting question here is, do Rothman and Pascrell run in a primary against each other, each citing that as their real district, and leave Garrett facing only minor opposition? I'm sure that's what the GOP was hoping ... and a nightmare scenario the DCCC would like to avoid at all costs.]
Beyond that, it looks like almost everyone else's district got safer. Rush Holt (who I'd guess is most Kossacks' favorite member of the New Jersey delegation) in particular made out well; his district, the 12th keeps its basic shape but picks up the Dem stronghold of Trenton, from GOPer Chris Smith's 4th. So, Holt and Smith, who used to have slightly shaky districts, should have no trouble this decade. Likewise, GOPer Leonard Lance probably moved lower on the Dem target list with a 7th district that's more rural and has less suburban terrain. Rodney Frelinghuysen's mostly-solid GOP district in Morris and Somerset Counties may have gotten somewhat more Democratic by taking on the western flank of the vaporized old 8th, but those were already GOP-leaning towns (like Wayne and Verona) in a district that was blue mostly because of the presence of Paterson.
A Frank LoBiondo retirement in the Atlantic City-based 2nd might yield a pickup later in the decade, and Jon Runyan might be vulnerable in the 3rd against a strong opponent—both those districts didn't change much, and are probably still around even PVIs—but those are big "if"s. But unless Rothman can win the "fair fight," it looks like we might come out of 2012 with a 6-6 delegation in a decidedly blue state. New Jersey is a prime example of how hard it can be to create a Dem-friendly map, without resorting to bacon-mander techniques, in a state where the Dem votes are so heavily concentrated in the cities and the suburbs have a mostly light-red hue.