By Jim Ellis
July 12, 2021 — Much of the early 2022 election cycle narrative places the Republicans in an advantageous position to re-claim the US House majority they lost in 2018, but there are mitigating factors that make predicting such an outcome premature.
To begin, analysts cite the historical voting pattern that yields large midterm losses for the party that wins the White House in the previous election – a mean average House seat loss of 25 for the president’s party in the first midterm in the 11 such elections from Eisenhower in 1954 to Trump in 2018 – which is a key influence factor for the 2022 election cycle.
Since we are immediately following a new census, redistricting will change at least to a small degree all of the districts in the 44 states that will have more than one seat. Most analysts believe Republicans will be at least slight beneficiaries of the new maps because their party controls most of the state legislatures that will draw the new lines.
The states, however, do not yet even have their census tract data and won’t until mid-August at the earliest; therefore, redistricting will be later and even more chaotic than we are accustomed to seeing. The delays could lead to more interim court maps being placed for the 2022 election, which could neutralize any gain the GOP achieves from their favorable position in the majority of state legislatures that have redistricting power.
Additionally, one must look at the 2020 race results to determine which of the seats will become major targets. In November, 53 current House members won their elections with less than 52 percent of the vote, 27 Democrats and 26 Republicans. In terms of the closest election results, and likely meaning the most vulnerable conversion targets for the 2022 re-election cycle, we see 11 Republicans in the 12 seats where the incumbent’s party averaged 50 percent of the vote or below in the previous two electoral contests.
This tells us that the national Republican strength factor heading into the midterm vote may be somewhat weaker than noted in a cursory overview.
Below is the first installment of an update concerning half of the top 12 most vulnerable districts in terms of the incumbent party’s average vote from the last two elections:
IA-2: Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa) – Ave R vote: 46.0 percent
• It is no surprise seeing a six-vote winner being in the most vulnerable re-election position. Iowa kept its four seats in reapportionment, so it is unlikely that the southeastern 2nd District will greatly change. Early predictions suggest this seat will need to gain less than 10,000 people.
At this point, there are no signs that former state senator and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Rita Hart (D), after a crushing loss, will return for a re-match. State Rep. Christina Bohannon (D-Iowa City) is on record saying she is considering forming a congressional campaign committee. Regardless of who the Democrats nominate, the 2nd District will host a highly competitive campaign next year.
IA-1: Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion) – Ave R vote: 47.8 percent
• Rep. Hinson unseated freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) who had defeated then-Rep. Rod Blum (R) just two years earlier. A 2022 re-match is unlikely particularly since Finkenauer is considering entering the US Senate race. Rep. Hinson’s most likely opponent is state Sen. Liz Mathis (D-Cedar Rapids). Both she and Rep. Hinson were former television news anchors in the Cedar Rapids market before each were elected to the state legislature.
IA-3: Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) – Ave D vote: 48.1 percent
• The only Democrat among the most vulnerable incumbents, Rep. Axne has won two races against former Rep. David Young (R) with less than majority support. The 3rd District houses the largest population among the state’s four districts meaning that Axne’s CD will shed residents. Depending upon how the change is made, this could either help or hurt the congresswoman.
Rep. Axne also is not closing the door on running either for governor or senator, so decisions will be made once we see the new redistricting map and determine if Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) is going to seek re-election. In any event, expect the 3rd District to again be competitive, since this state holds the top three districts found on the most vulnerable list.
Young is unlikely to return for another campaign. So far, former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa (R) has announced her congressional candidacy.
FL-27: Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Miami) – Ave R vote: 48.6 percent
• The South Florida situation is one that redistricting will likely improve for the GOP. This region has been historically Republican, but the court-imposed mid-decade redistricting map tipped it to the Democrats for what proved to be one term. Rep. Salazar unseated Donna Shalala in the 2020 election after losing to her in 2018. Shalala, the former Health & Human Services Secretary and University of Miami president, says she is interested in a third match between the two. No candidacy decisions will be made until the new redistricting map is adopted.
CA-48: Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Orange County) – Ave R vote: 48.8 percent
• Rep. Steel unseated freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) in another of the historically Republican seats that Democrats won in 2018 but lost in the first re-election. Rouda is indicating that he will return for another run. The district must gain more residents, so how the SoCal coastal district will be reconfigured remains a question. The next campaign here is once again likely to be a highly competitive contest, but it is more likely the Democratic victory in 2018 is the electoral anomaly rather than Steel winning the seat back for the Republicans last November.
NY-22: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) – Ave R vote: 49.1 percent
• Rep. Tenney re-claimed this seat in 2020 by just 109 votes and a three-month post-election period, but the western New York region is expected to change greatly in redistricting. Neighboring Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) is retiring and both his 23rd District and Tenney’s 22nd are the two lowest populated seats in a state that is losing a congressional seat.
Combining these two districts is a likelihood, which would mean a statewide reduction for Republicans but probable that Tenney will inherit a much safer district. Former Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) who lost the tight previous election has already said he will not return for a re-match in 2022.