Early House Outlook – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 20, 2021 — With the presidential Inauguration dominating political attention this week, it is a good time to set the upcoming electoral stage for the US House on a 50-state basis. Today, a first of a four-part series, will begin to look at the 13 western states. During the rest of the week, we will move eastward.

• Alaska – 1 Seat (1R)
Rep. Don Young (R-Ft. Yukon), the Dean of the House, won his 25th term in November with a 54-45 percent victory in a competitive race. With Alaska being an at-large state, reapportionment and redistricting won’t change the political situation. The big question surrounding the 87-year-old congressional veteran is when will he retire?

• Arizona – 9 Seats (5D4R)
The Arizona population growth rate makes them a cinch to gain a 10th District in reapportionment. It is also clear that the new seat will be placed in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Arizona has a redistricting commission comprised of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent. The latter member becomes the chairman. The membership has not yet been chosen.

The state’s marginal nature suggests that we will see a very competitive state once all 10 seats are in place. Currently, there are two districts where the winning House member received 52 percent of the vote or less. This means GOP Rep. David Schweikert (2020 winning percentage: 52.2) and Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran (2020 winning percentage: 51.6) will be looking to add more Republicans and Democrats to their seats, respectively.

An open governor’s race (Republican Gov. Doug Ducey ineligible to seek a third term) and what should be a competitive re-election for Sen. Mark Kelly (D) could cause open seats in the House delegation should any of the sitting members attempt to run statewide.

• California – 53 Seats (42D11R)
For the first time in history, the Golden State appears positioned to lose a seat in their US House delegation. With migration exiting the state exceeding those incoming, it appears the California growth rate did not keep up with the specified threshold in order to keep all of their 53 seats. The Los Angeles area is likely to absorb the loss of the seat, but which member will be paired with another is an open question.

California voters adopted an initiative before the 2010 census that established a citizens’ commission to administer redistricting under strict parameters that emphasizes keeping cities and counties whole when possible and irrespective of where any particular incumbent may reside. Therefore, with the mapping power removed from the legislature, it is possible that inside Democratic politics might play a lesser role in the redistricting process.

Republicans gained four seats in the delegation from the November elections, all that were previously held but lost in 2018. Therefore, Reps. David Valadao (R-Hanford), Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita), Young Kim (R-La Habra), and Michelle Steel (R-Orange County) all represent politically marginal seats. These members could become particularly vulnerable depending upon how the Commission members draw their new seats.

• Colorado – 7 Seats (4D3R)
Colorado is another western state that looks to be gaining a new congressional seat in reapportionment, thus expanding the delegation to eight seats. The new district will very likely be placed in the Denver-Colorado Springs population corridor. With Democrats holding the redistricting pen here, we can be assured that the new seat will be drawn for their party. Such a move, however, could make the three Republican seats even stronger.

The only delegation member who had a close race is freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Silt; 2020 winning percentage: 51.4), who represents what is termed the “Western Slope” district. Bordered by Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico on three sides, creating drastic changes to her 3rd District will be difficult even though it is the only one of the seven Colorado CD’s that now has less than 800,000 people.

The big decision will revolve around the placement of the Democratic city of Pueblo, and whether it will remain in CD 3 in an attempt to weaken Boebert, or at least some of this Democratic region being placed in a new district to help guarantee that seat swings left.

• Hawaii – 2 Seats (2D)
Very little change will come to Hawaii in relation to reapportionment and redistricting. The state will remain with two districts: one fully contained on the island of Oahu and the other taking part of Oahu before spreading through the remaining islands. District 2 will have to gain population from the Honolulu-anchored 1st CD, but we can expect only perfunctory changes in the coming new map. Reps. Ed Case (D-Kaneohe/ Honolulu) and freshman Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) will only be potentially vulnerable in Democratic primary contests.

• Idaho – 2 Seats (2R)
The Gem State is one of the nation’s fastest growing, but they are nowhere close to earning a third seat at least in the current census. Therefore, we can expect to have two of the most heavily populated districts in the whole country. The eastern seat will gain constituents from the western seat, and both Republican incumbents Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho Falls) will have safe general election districts.

• Montana – 1 Seat (1R)
The California population bleed has definitely affected Montana, and it is one of the reasons that the Big Sky Country looks to be regaining its 2nd seat, the district that was lost in the 1990 census. If so, redistricting in the Republican controlled legislature becomes interesting. The election of at-large Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte as the state’s new governor awards the GOP the redistricting pen. They will draw an eastern seat and a western district and try to make both Republican. Newly elected at-large Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) would run in the new eastern district.

• Nevada – 4 Seats (3D; 1R)
Democrats hold the redistricting pen but two of their Clark County anchored seats, Districts 3 (Rep. Susie Lee-D; 2020 winning percentage: 48.7) and 4 (Rep. Steven Horsford-D; 2020 winning percentage: 50.7), will need more Democrats as their vote totals have routinely produced close results. In a fast growing state that continually features close statewide elections, it may be difficult to place both seats beyond political competition despite the Democrats’ holding the redistricting cards.

• New Mexico – 3 Seats (2D; 1R)
The Land of Enchantment is expected to retain its three congressional districts, with one of them, the Albuquerque seat, headed for special election in the coming months. The election will be scheduled once Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque) is confirmed as the nation’s new Interior Secretary. It is likely all three seats will remain with their current party, though the southern district, the 2nd CD (Freshman Rep. Yvette Herrell-R; 2020 winning percentage: 53.7) will likely remain competitive.

• Oregon – 5 Seats (4D; 1R)
Oregon is another of the western states benefiting from the large number of people moving from California. It appears that the Beaver State will increase its delegation size to six seats with all current districts holding well over 820,000 people, and all within the same population range.

It is difficult to tell at first glance exactly how this new 6th District will be drawn because the population is so evenly spread among the five current CDs. With the legislature and governorship in Democratic hands, it is a virtual certainty that their party will gain the new seat, but they will also need to increase their partisan number in the 4th District (Rep. Peter DeFazio-D; 2020 winning percentage: 51.5) that is becoming politically marginal. At the same time, the eastern 2nd District, because there will be a need to park Republican voters, will very likely survive as a GOP seat. Expect the new Oregon delegation to break 5D-1R.

• Utah – 4 Seats (4R)
Another fast-growing state, Utah, which gained a seat in the last reapportionment, is not in line to add another in 2021. With Republicans in the person of Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Salt Lake City) re-capturing the 4th District from one-term Rep. Ben McAdams (D), the Republican legislature and governor will draw a map that improves the 4th CD for Mr. Owens (2020 winning percentage: 47.7) while also keeping the other three seats in the GOP column.

• Washington – 10 Seats (7D; 3R)
Like Utah, the state of Washington also gained a seat in the 2010 reapportionment and will remain constant in 2021. Washington is one of eight states that has a congressional redistricting commission. This one has four bipartisan members and at least three must vote to support new maps.

The most likely scenario is the seats will remain in a 7-3 split, though the 8th District that Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Sammamish) converted from the Republicans in 2018 returned her with only 51.7 percent despite outspending the Republican nominee by a better than 4:1 margin. Unless this seat sees an increase in Democrats, it will remain politically competitive.

• Wyoming – 1 Seat (1R)
Like Alaska, Wyoming is an at-large state and will remain as such. At-large Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson/Jackson) will likely have little trouble in the Republican primary when the political dust clears and face no head wind in the general election.

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