Sabato's Crystal Ball

House Update: In Electoral College, Tie Goes to Romney

Kyle Kondik, House Editor October 18th, 2012

Partisan control of the individual states’ congressional delegations is a largely meaningless statistic — until, one of these days, it isn’t.

In the event of a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, the president of the United States would be selected by the U.S. House. In a rather archaic tradition, each of the 50 state congressional delegations would get a single vote to cast, and whichever candidate won more votes in the House would win.

If there was a tie this November — which is not an impossibility — the new, 113th Congress would pick the president. And that would be Mitt Romney; a state-by-state analysis shows why.

Republicans have a built-in advantage because they control the delegations of several small states: in a hypothetical House vote, Wyoming’s single representative has as much power as California’s 53. Republicans also appear likely to control the delegations in states that Barack Obama probably will win, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, and will likely have a split in the even more Democratic New Jersey.

The Garden State is among a handful of delegations that could be split evenly among the parties — for instance, Minnesota’s House contingent currently has four Republicans and four Democrats. Split delegations might not necessarily even cast ballots.

Below are state-by-state guesses as to what the partisan makeup of the 50 House delegations will be next year. The rating changes in Chart 1, and other updates, will be explained in the respective state entries; as for our House projection, we’re holding steady at Democrats netting seven seats, or a 235-200 Republican House majority.

Chart 1: Crystal Ball House rating changes

Note: House ratings for all 435 seats are available here.

Alaska: Projection 1-0 Republican

Alabama: Projection 6-1 Republican

Arkansas: Projection 4-0 Republican — This delegation was 3-1 Democratic before the 2010 elections.

Arizona: Projection 5-4 Democratic — There are three competitive seats in Arizona: AZ-1, AZ-2 and AZ-9. Rep. Ron Barber (D, AZ-2) replaced the retired Gabby Giffords in a special election a few months ago, and while Republicans are contesting the seat, it would be surprising if he lost. The other two seats are highly competitive, and while we currently rate both seats as leaning Democratic, we could imagine switching either or both before the end; if Republicans won one of these three competitive seats, they — and not the Democrats — would control this delegation.

California: Projection 36-15 Democratic, two toss-ups — Democrats will undoubtedly dominate this delegation for years to come, and they are likely to add at least a couple seats, and maybe more, to their advantage in the Golden State. One race moving back on our ratings list is CA-21; state Assemblyman David Valadao (R) appeared to have an easy path to victory here, but Republicans are getting a bit nervous that his little-known opponent, Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO John Hernandez (D), might pose a threat largely because of his party ID combined with his surname in this majority Hispanic district.

Colorado: Projection 3-3, one toss-up — If Democrats can knock off Rep. Mike Coffman (R), they might control this delegation, although Reps. Scott Tipton (R, CO-3) and Ed Perlmutter (D, CO-7) are also in competitive contests. Given President Obama’s difficulties in the Centennial State, Coffman might have slightly better than even odds of surviving.

Connecticut: Projection 5-0 Democratic – Even if state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R) captures the open CT-5 seat — we have ex-state Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D) as a slight favorite — Democrats will comfortably control this delegation.

Delaware: Projection 1-0 Democratic

Florida: Projection: 17-9 Republican, one toss-up — Democrats are positioned to make modest gains in Florida (the delegation is a lopsided 19-6 Republican now, and two seats were added there after redistricting). But given that it appears Mitt Romney is in a good position in Florida now, it wouldn’t surprise us if Democrats ended up not doing quite as well here; the races to watch are Reps. Allen West (R, FL-18) and David Rivera (R, FL-26). Despite Rivera’s ethical problems, it’s not out of the question that a Romney tide could lift him to what at this point would be an upset victory against Democrat Joe Garcia.

Georgia: Projection: 10-4 Republican — Rep. John Barrow (D, GA-12) might hold on against state Rep. Lee Anderson (R), who is not regarded as a strong opponent. Otherwise, there’s not much action here.

Hawaii: Projection: 2-0 Democratic

Idaho: Projection: 2-0 Republican

Illinois: Projection 11-5 Democratic, two toss-ups — This is one state where what looks like a big Democratic edge could evaporate by Election Day. We currently favor Democrats to knock off four Republican incumbents, but none of those races are necessarily sure things: even Rep. Joe Walsh (R, IL-8) is not a sure loser, and we’re upgrading his chances even though we still favor Democrat Tammy Duckworth to unseat him. We Ask America, the polling arm of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, did a credible job polling Illinois House races in 2010, and it has all the competitive races as pretty close. Presidential coattails here could be key: President Obama won his home state with 62% of the vote in 2008, but John Kerry only won 55% there in 2004. If Obama’s share of the vote is closer to Kerry’s 2004 total rather than his own 2008 showing, Democrats could significantly underachieve in the Land of Lincoln despite a favorable new redistricting map.

Indiana: Projection: 7-2 Republican — Democrats might be able to upset Rep. Larry Bucshon in IN-8, but that wouldn’t change the GOP majority in the Hoosier State’s delegation.

Iowa: Projection: 2-2 split — All four seats in Iowa are at least somewhat competitive. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) could deliver the delegation to the Democrats if he can beat Rep. Tom Latham (R) in the competitive member vs. member race in IA-3.

Kansas: Projection 4-0 Republican

Kentucky: Projection 4-2 Republican — The only really competitive race here is for Rep. Ben Chandler’s (D) seat, but he remains a favorite.

Louisiana: Projection 5-1 Republican

Maine: Projection 2-0 Democratic — Watch the Second Congressional District, not because Rep. Mike Michaud (D) is in much danger of losing, but rather because Mitt Romney could potentially squeeze an electoral vote out of it, much like President Obama got a vote out of Nebraska in 2008. Perhaps a Maine electoral vote could prevent a 269-269 tie (Maine and Nebraska are the only states that award electoral votes by congressional district).

Massachusetts: Projection 8-1 Democratic — Rep. John Tierney (D, MA-6) is now an underdog in his race against ex-state Sen. Richard Tisei. The headlines about Tierney’s family’s legal troubles have taken their toll, and Tisei has outraised Tierney in four straight quarters. If Tisei wins, it will be interesting to see if he can survive in 2014 and beyond as the only Republican in the Massachusetts delegation.

Maryland: Projection 7-1 Democratic — A Democratic gerrymander here is having the desired effect: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R, MD-6) is the most endangered Republican incumbent in the country.

Michigan: Projection 8-6 Republican — Even if Democrats do indeed knock off Rep. Dan Benishek (R, MI-1), Michigan is likely to be an Obama state with a Republican-majority congressional delegation.

Minnesota: Projection 4-3 Democratic, one toss-up — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R, MN-6) will always attract attention because of her controversial stances and statements, but a new SurveyUSA poll showing her up nine points over challenger Jim Graves (D) is another indication as to how difficult she will be to defeat in a pretty conservative district. The real action in Gopherland is in MN-8, where Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) is engaged in a highly competitive race with ex-Rep. Rick Nolan (D) that will likely determine whether Democrats win a majority in the delegation.

Mississippi: Projection 3-1 Republican

Missouri: Projection 6-2 Republican

Montana: Projection 1-0 Republican

Nebraska: Projection 3-0 Republican

Nevada: Projection 2-2 split — The new NV-4 seat and Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) NV-3 seat are both hotly contested, although we slightly favor Democrats to win the former and Republicans to win the latter. If Democrats turn their big Nevada registration advantage into votes, though, they could surprise up and down the ballot.

New Hampshire: Projection two toss-ups — Both of the Granite State’s House contests are very close; Rep. Charlie Bass (D, NH-2) looks to be in worse shape than Rep. Frank Guinta (R, NH-1) — despite Bass opponent Ann McLane Kuster’s (D) recent missteps — but any combination of outcomes is still possible here.

New Jersey: Projection 6-6 split — The Garden State is emblematic of the disadvantage Democrats have in the event of a 269-all split in the Electoral College — the state might not cast a vote because of a split House delegation even though President Obama should win the state easily on Election Day.

New Mexico: Projection 2-1 Democratic

New York: Projection 20-5 Democratic, two toss-ups — Democrats can’t match their incredible 2009 advantage — 27-2 — because New York only has 27 seats now. And they also will have trouble netting major gains out of the Empire State if they can’t protect their own; one of those Democrats is Rep. Louise Slaughter (D, NY-25), whose lead is shrinking and who the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now spending money to defend.

North Carolina: Projection 9-3 Republican, one toss-up — Republicans are solidly ahead in three of the four Democrat-held seats their gerrymander targeted this cycle, but Rep. Mike McIntyre (D, NC-7) is proving himself to be a survivor. Still, the Democrats’ current 7-6 edge in this delegation will be gone after Nov. 6.

North Dakota: Projection 1-0 Republican

Ohio: Projection 11-4 Republican, one toss-up — Here’s another state that President Obama might win, but where because of the 2010 results followed by redistricting Republicans are virtually guaranteed to hold an advantage in the delegation. The heated OH-16 race between Reps. Betty Sutton (D) and Jim Renacci (R) might go the way of the presidential race in Ohio.

Oklahoma: Projection 5-0 Republican

Oregon: Projection 4-1 Democratic

Pennsylvania: Projection 12-6 Republican — We still favor Rep. Mark Critz (D, PA-12) to hold on, but if the presidential race is indeed getting closer in the Keystone State, then Critz may really face an avalanche in his already conservative district. Otherwise, there’s not much action here after a lot of turnover in 2010.

Rhode Island: Projection 2-0 Democratic — Rhode Island, which might give a greater percentage of its votes to President Obama than any other state in the continental 48, might also have a split congressional delegation if Rep. David Cicilline (D, RI-1) can’t hang on to his seat.

South Carolina: Projection 6-1 Republican

South Dakota: Projection 1-0 Republican

Tennessee: Projection 7-2 Republican — Out of an abundance of caution, we’re adding Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R, TN-4) to our competitive race list, although the bad story that came out about him last week — involving him asking a patient with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion — might not be deadly in a very Republican district. His bigger problem might be a 2014 primary.

Texas: Projection 24-11 Republican, one toss-up — The race in the massive TX-23 — which extends from San Antonio to El Paso — is one of the hottest contests in the country, but the state’s 35 other races are sleepy. Ex-Rep. Nick Lampson (D) is giving it a go in TX-14, but it’s probably a bridge too far for him in a presidential year.

Utah: Projection 4-0 Republican

Vermont: Projection 1-0 Democratic

Virginia: Projection 8-3 Republican — Rep. Scott Rigell (R, VA-2) appears to be in an improving position in his bid for a second term, both according to nonpartisan polling and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s decision to pull its advertising from the district.

Washington: Projection 6-4 Democratic

West Virginia: Projection 2-1 Republican

Wisconsin: Projection 5-3 Republican — Democrats would have to upset both Reps. Sean Duffy (R, WI-7) and Reid Ribble (R, WI-8) to take control of this delegation.

Wyoming: Projection 1-0 Republican

This rough estimate gives Republicans a majority in at least 29 state congressional delegations, with Democrats holding an edge in 15 and six either tied or too close to call at the moment.