Eli Evankovich is an accountant and farmer from a tiny town in western Pennsylvania — and suddenly an important man. Contemplating a run for the state legislature earlier this year, he traveled to Harrisburg for the first time in his life and was startled

to find himself enthusiastically courted by Republican leaders.

In any other election cycle, the 27-year-old rookie would barely register with political leaders in the state capital, never mind nationally. But this year, money will be thrown at his campaign against an incumbentDemocrat, volunteers will show up at his farm and polls — a rarity in state legislative races — will be taken.

As the Beltway remains riveted on November’s congressional midterm elections, another political war is taking shape in small communities nationwide, elevating hundreds of unknown Evankoviches to the front lines. The reason: Next year, state legislatures will take up redistricting, the once-a-decade task of redrawing congressional boundaries based on population shifts gleaned through the census.

Redistricting plays a central political role every 10 years, but the stakes seem particularly high this cycle. In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Republicans see an opportunity to improve their prospects for winning back Congress and controlling it for years to come — by shaking loose the Democrats’ grip on state governments.

Some of the biggest names in politics have jumped into the hand-to-hand combat with an intensity generally reserved for a presidential race. Among those at the forefront: Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee; former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); Democratic strategist Harold Ickes; GOP strategist Karl Rove; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)