Election day 2010 saw the Republican party swept into power in the U.S. House of Representatives with a large majority. The last time this happened, they stayed in power for 12 years, but can they hold on to the majority for another long stretch, or will 2012 see the Democrats returned to power once more?
In order for Democrats to retake the majority, they will have to make a net gain of 25 seats in the next election, not an impossible task, but the fight won’t be easy. There’s no guarantee that these numbers will remain the same for the entirety of the 112th Congress either. Representatives can leave to run for higher office or if they’re offered private sector jobs and, sadly, some pass away while in office and some are forced to resign amid scandal. In fact, two Representatives have announced their departures from the House. Democrat Jane Harman of California will leave to become the head of the Woodrow Wilson Center and Republican Christopher Lee of New York abruptly resigned after it was revealed that the married man had sent shirtless pictures of himself to a woman on Craigslist. Vacancies in the House are filled by special elections, the rules governing the process for these elections is determined by each state individually and there is no guarantee that the person chosen to fill the vacancy will be of the same party as their predecessor. So, while it would be almost completely impossible for the Democrats to win enough special elections to retake the House before the next regular election, it is possible that the partisan balance in the House could change before November 2012, either in favor of the Democrats or the Republicans, which would change the number of seats Democrats need to regain the 218 seats needed for a majority, though not likely by much (Harman’s seat is considered reliably Democratic and Lee’s is solidly Republican, so, barring any Scott Brown-like upsets, these changes in membership are unlikely to affect the partisan balance of the House).
Future vacancies in the membership of the House, however, may not be as likely to remain in the same party as Harman’s and Lee’s seats seem to be. Special elections can be unpredictable. Eleven special house elections were held during the last Congress, many due to the previous Representative being appointed to a position in the Obama administration. Three of those elections resulted in a party change, one Rpublican seat filpped to the Democrats while two seats switched from D to R. One other change resulted in Democrat Scott Murphy being elected to the traditionally Republican NY-20 seat (which had been vacated by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand) after having been down thirty points in early polling. Special elections are sometimes just too hard to predict.
One other variable in this situation is the possibility, however remote, that some lawmakers may switch parties, though most may be afraid to do so considering the tactic has not been successful lately, just ask Arlen Specter and Parker Griffith.
What all this means is that, while no own knows exactly how many seats the Democrats are going to need to win on election night 2012 right now, the number is not likely to change much from what it is now. However, while a change of one or two seats in the partisan make up of the house may not seem like much, considering the number of close races we are likely to have and the certainty of an intense fight from the leaders of both parties over control, one or two seats could mean the difference between Democratic or Republican control.
Obviously the Democrat’s chances depend on much more than the results of the special elections. National mood always plays a factor in elections. If the Republicans manage to achieve their goals and provide some victories to their base, they stand a good chance of maintaining control, but if they can’t deliver on their promises, the party’s base and the tea partiers may not be too enthusiastic about going to the polls, which would bode well for Democrats.
2012 will also be a Presidential election. With President Obama on the ballot, Democrats are likely to be much more energized than they were last time around, which could help many down ballot candidates, though that depends on President Obama’s standing with his base. If liberals in the party continue to view the President as moving to the right and not standing up for their principles, they may not want to go to the polls for him or any other Democrat.
The parties messages will also play a part in deciding control. Whichever party puts out the platform that resonates most with the voters will increase their chances at the majority. The question is, what will the people want from their elected officials in 2012? We wont know the answer to that for a long time. It all depends on how people will feel about the direction the country’s headed in November 2012. Will the economy be better or worse? Will the public believe the wars are being won or lost? Will unemployment be up or down?
In short, it’s far too soon to tell which party is favored to control the house in the 113th Congress. There are too many unknown factors to consider. The best anybody can say right now is that the battle for control will be hard fought and that neither side is likely to give an inch to their opposition. Only time will tell what the future holds for the members of the House.