The 2022 election for political control of the House of Representatives will be an unpredictable and dramatic event.
The decennial reapportionment and redistricting of the House of Representatives is unfolding state by state. As the new year begins, 25 states have adopted redistricting maps (not including six states that have only one House district) that comprise about two-thirds of the 435 House seats in the nation. These include major states like California, Texas, Michigan, and Georgia. Nineteen states with 156 districts have not yet adopted their maps, including New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Two of the states with adopted maps, North Carolina and Ohio, were aggressively gerrymandered by Republicans and have active litigation before their respective highest State courts, which might still alter the district lines in those states and spare some Democratic seats from elimination. The Democratic majority in the House is so thin, 222-213, that the Republicans need just five seats to win control.
The Republican Party has political control, meaning the Governorship and both Houses of a State’s Legislature, of more than twice as many House seats as the Democrats have control. The Republicans don’t really need to wipe the Democrats out. All they need is to chip away at the competitiveness of the Democrats’ seats, in a “redistricting by attrition.” (I wrote about the redistricting process in May 2021.)
Currently, it looks like the Republicans have a small “ edge “ among the House seats districted so far, but the national political environment as a whole, affected by the economy, inflation, COVID-19 and its mutations, or a Democratic political success with Build Back Better, will likely have a more significant impact on control of the House than redistricting itself and is very uncertain.
And so, I will focus on analyzing what we know right now.
Dave Wasserman, nationally respected redistricting expert for the Cook Political Report, thinks the Republicans are clear favorites to gain control of the House:
Is Wasserman right? Are the Republicans “clear favorites” ? I am a careful if partisan student of the dynamics of this process, and it’s clear the Democrats will be hard-pressed and challenged in many seats they currently hold where the Republicans have made the districts more competitive, or have protected their own incumbents.
Right now, I believe Wasserman’s prediction is premature, although one can say the Republicans are advantaged. However, it will be several months before three major states, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, with a combined 71 House seats, adopt their plans and then face litigation. Even then, the election can still be a close-run thing.
THE HOUSE SEATS NOW IN PLACE
Texas and Georgia
The results of redistricting across the nation have defied any pattern. The State of Texas gained two seats as a result of population change, going from 36 to 38 seats. The current breakdown is Republicans 23, Democrats 13, but many of those seats had become highly competitive. The Republicans have added one solid new Republican seat, and one new seat, heavily Hispanic, that is a breakeven between the two parties. The Republicans shifted the rest of the districts around to protect the incumbents of both parties. The State of Georgia has fourteen districts with an 8-6 Republican majority; the Legislature squeezed the Democrats in two districts together, thus eliminating one Democratic seat, and will go to 9-5.
Montana, Oregon, North Carolina
Montana and Oregon gained an extra seat apiece due to population gains; the Republicans drew the new open seat to win it in Montana, and the Democrats did the same in Oregon. Population gain has given the State of North Carolina an extra House seat; the Republicans there drew the new seat as Republican, and also have redrawn two currently Democratic seats to eliminate them. Even if the Democrats succeed in getting the North Carolina Supreme Court to protect the Democratic seats, the Republicans will still gain one.
Ohio, Wisconsin, West Virginia
Population shifts have caused Ohio to lose a seat, dropping the state from sixteen to fifteen seats. The current seats are 12-4 Republican. The people of Ohio created an Independent Commission to draw the lines there, but the Republican legislature ignored their plan and did an aggressive 13-2 gerrymander. The Courts may yet protect one of the Democratic seats, and there are still several modestly competitive seats there held by Republican incumbents. But it does seem like the Republicans will gain a seat there. In Wisconsin, an endangered Democratic incumbent, Ron Kind, whose district Trump won, is retiring, and the Democrats will be very hard-pressed to hold that seat. West Virginia is losing its third House seat; since all three were Republican, the Republicans will lose a seat there.
Arizona, Michigan, Virginia
In Arizona and Michigan, independent commissions drew the districts. On balance, the results put more Democrats at risk than Republicans, but the elections there will be intensely contested. In Arizona, where the Democrats hold a 5-4 majority, the Commission put two Democratic seats at risk, including one where Democratic incumbent Ann Fitzpatrick is retiring, and the other, held by Tom O’Halleran, Trump won the new district by eight points. The seat of Republican incumbent, David Schweikert, who only won by 4 points in 2020, has been made more vulnerable to a challenge as well. The State of Michigan had a 7-7 partisan breakdown, but reapportionment has caused a loss of one seat. Michigan has an independent Commission and has drawn districts rated by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups for two Democratic incumbents and one Republican incumbent, Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Donald Trump and may lose a Republican primary, and one open seat that is competitive but likely Republican.
In Virginia, where the Democrats hold a 7-4 advantage, the independent Commission was unable to adopt a plan and the Virginia Supreme Court appointed a special master who has drawn the lines. The Democrats do not appear to be competitive in any of the four Republican seats, while Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria’s district is rated toss-up by Cook Political Report. Biden carried this district by two points in 2020, but Glenn Youngkin carried that district in the Governor’s race.
California, New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey
The State of California has lost a seat in reapportionment, dropping from 53 to 52. Democrats held a lopsided advantage under the old seats, 42-11, and the new lines created by an Independent Commission have a current 41-11 Democrat majority. Surprisingly, three of the Republican seats appear deeply competitive and have ben rated toss-ups by Cook, and three other Republican seats were deemed somewhat competitive but likely to be held by the Republicans. For the Democrats to hold the House of Representatives it seems several of these Republican-held seats in California are must wins. The State of Illinois also had to lose a seat in reapportionment; the Democrats control the Legislature and Governorship there and have eliminated one Republican seat, and made another highly vulnerable to a Democratic win. In New Mexico, the Legislature and the Governor have altered the Republican seat there to give a Democrat a strong chance to win. Republican Yvette Herrell’s district will go from Trump +12 to Biden +6, but the district is still rated a Toss-Up by Cook. Herrell was defeated in 2018 but came back and won in 2020.
New Jersey’s redistricting was unusual. Over 2016-2018, Democrats had gone from a 7-5 majority in the Congressional delegation to 11-1, before Democrat Jeff Van Drew switched to the Republican party. Four of the Democratic incumbents sit in tight districts, including one, Thomas Malinowski, who only won his seat in 2020 by one point and has since become imbroiled in conflicts-of-interest problems. The Democratic Legislature took the step of protecting three of the Democratic incumbents and making Malinowski’s district Biden +1, giving the Republicans a strong chance to win there.
STATES WHOSE PLAN ARE NOT ADOPTED
Several major States have not yet adopted their plans, including New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, and they present three distinct political frameworks.
In Florida, the Republicans control the Legislature and the Governor, and have gained a seat in the reapportionment. The current makeup is 16-11 Republican. Both Houses of the Legislature have produced maps that create a new open seat with a clear Republican win; the question remains about how aggressively to gerrymander currently Democratic districts. Florida has a voter-passed Fair District law, and the courts could block efforts to tear districts apart. But the Republicans are poised to gain at least one, and possibly up to three, seats.
The State of New York loses a House seat in reapportionment. Its current ratio is 19-8 Democratic. The State has an Independent Districting Commission, but it failed to produce a consensus map on Jan. 3, 2022. Democrats in the Legislature have the power to overrule its proposals. Two Republican incumbents are retiring or leaving to run for other office, and internal population shifts in the State have resulted in New York City becoming a larger proportion of the population, benefiting the Democrats. There is sure to be an aggressive gerrymander in New York, possibly to 22-4, but the Democrats must be careful not to violate State districting laws in the process that require compact and contiguous districts, prohibit favoring or disfavoring incumbents, and protect minority rights. The Courts have repeatedly taken over redistricting in New York and the Republican Party is sure to sue on whatever plan the Democrats come up with. Republican moderate John Katko, who voted to impeach Trump and has held his seat despite both Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden winning there, may face a primary from a right-winger. If that person defeats Katko, the district may be vulnerable in the general election to a Democrat, bringing Republican losses in New York to five.
Pennsylvania, New Hampshire
The redistricting outcome in Pennsylvania and the election results there are filled with uncertainty. There is divided control. The Governor is a Democrat likely to veto a partisan gerrymander by the Republican-controlled Legislature, and throw the redistricting to the courts. Pennyslvania has a 9-9 partisan split but must lose a seat as a result of reapportionment. The State Supreme Court forced modifications to the lines following the 2012 reapportionment, but how the new lines are mapped will cause intensely contested elections for several seats. The Democrats could lose a seat here. New Hampshire has two Democrats in its House seats, but a Republican Legislature and Governor. The maps made public but not yet adopted create one safer Democratic seat, but the seat held by Democrat Chris Pappas is put at risk. Once again, there is considerable debate inside the Republican party about how aggressive to become, but it seems Pappas is vulnerable.
Mopping Up: Colorado, Iowa, Maryland
Colorado gained an additional seat in reapportionment, and the independent districting commission has created a competitive open seat there. In Iowa, the last remaining House Democrat, Cindy Axne, of the four seats there, is running for re-election but only won by one point in 2020. In Maryland, the Democrats altered the only Republican district there, held by Andy Harris, from a Trump +20 to a Biden + 0.4, but Harris is still favored there as the incumbent.
New Cook Political Report Ratings
Here are the Cook Political Report ratings for fifty districts considered at least somewhat competitive. They don’t include States where the plans have not been adopted:
In the ratings table there are 8 Democratic toss-up districts, and six Republican toss-up districts. In the Lean Republican and Likely Republican district ratings are another five Democratic districts, but there is only one Republican district, one from Illinois, among the Lean or Likely Democratic seats. That means there are 13 vulnerable Democratic seats and seven vulnerable Republican seats, with Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire plans not adopted. The Georgia Democratic seat eliminated by the Republicans is not shown in the table.
I expect a politically tumultuous next ten months and I will be doing Updates on 2022: The Ruthless MidTerm.
Let’s Have Hope for the New Year !!