How Low Can You Go? Below 50% …

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 22, 2021 — Now that the 2020 vote totals are finalized, analysis can be conducted to unearth what clues the election just completed provides for the 2022 cycle.

In looking at all 435 US House districts, we see that 168 electoral contests were decided with the winner receiving less than 60 percent of the vote. A total of 53 campaigns featured the victor receiving 52 percent or less. These 53 results yielded 27 Democratic wins and 26 for the Republicans. Of those, eight, four for each party, produced a plurality result with neither candidate obtaining majority support. It is these latter eight elections where we concentrate our focus.

A ninth seat, that of Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa), did yield a majority winner, but with a scant six-vote margin, which was obviously the closest election of the 2020 cycle. Democrat Rita Hart is challenging the outcome before the House Administration Committee claiming that 22 uncounted ballots would give her a nine-vote victory, but so far, the situation has not been addressed. It goes without saying that Iowa’s 2nd District will be a major target for both parties in 2022.

Below is a quick synopsis of what one would think are top electoral targets for 2022, but, as you will see, many of these seats will either drop from the competition board or become a lesser target due to redistricting and other factors.


IA-3: Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) – 48.9%

Rep. Axne was re-elected to a second term in a virtual rerun of her 2018 campaign against then-Rep. David Young (R). As one of four top Iowa Democratic office holders, rumors are already surfacing that Rep. Axne could run for the Senate or governor, particularly if octogenarian Sen. Charles Grassley (R) decides to retire. Axne is not closing the door on a statewide run.

If she does run for the Senate or challenge Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), a 3rd District congressional race becomes very different. Additionally, it appears that this Des Moines-anchored seat will have to yield approximately 60,000 residents to the adjacent seats in redistricting. The three other Hawkeye State CDs all need more population, from between 5 and 40,000 people per seat. Losing this many 3rd District inhabitants could make the seat less Democratic depending upon how the lines are drawn.

Iowa has the reputation of having the fairest redistricting system. A state legislative committee staff is given authority to draw maps based upon the straight census numbers without deference to the incumbent’s political standing or personal residence. The legislature, without amendment, must then approve or disapprove of the committee staff’s new map.

Regardless of the redistricting outcome, the IA-3 race again promises to be a national congressional campaign.


MN-1: Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Blue Earth/Rochester) – 48.6%;

MN-2: Rep. Angie Craig (D-Eagan) – 48.2%

The two plurality Minnesota seats will undergo drastic redistricting changes as their state appears set to lose a CD in reapportionment. With the 1st District requiring more than 125,000 additional inhabitants and the 2nd as many as 90,000, the two southern Minnesota seats will look very different in 2022. Additionally, with the legislature being the only one in the country where each political party controls one legislative chamber, the configuration of the next congressional map could be drawn in many different ways.

Obviously, both Reps. Hagedorn and Craig are in vulnerable political situations, with the former wanting to see more Republicans added to his district, while the latter needs an influx of Democrats coming her way.

Regardless the redistricting picture, these two seats will again likely be prime electoral targets.


NV-3: Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) – 48.7%

Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District has been the site of close elections throughout the previous decade. Containing part of southern Las Vegas, the seat covers all of the state’s southern triangle region that lies between California and Arizona.

Nevada will not gain a seat in this year’s reapportionment as it has in the past two census decennials. There will be significant movement among the districts, however, with the 3rd being the prime focus. The latest population figures suggest that CD-3 will have to shed approximately 90,000 residents to other districts.

Democrats control the redistricting pen, so they will attempt improve the seat for Rep. Lee, but it might not be so easy. To the north is Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-Las Vegas) 4th District. While his CD is going to be very close to the optimum population number, the seat to its north, Republican CD-2 (Rep. Mark Amodei-R) will need more than 30,000 people and they can only come from District 4.

With Rep. Horsford having once lost this seat as an incumbent and winning in 2020 with only 50.7 percent of the vote, he will want more Democrats added to his district, too.

Therefore, Nevada redistricting promises to be a bit more difficult than in years past, but just as interesting, nonetheless.


NY-22: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-Binghamton/Utica) – 48.8%

Former Congresswoman Claudia Tenney is now returning to the House after enduring a three-month long post-election process that finally declared her the election winner by a 109-vote margin.

Aside from the tight nature of the district – the last three congressional winning percentages are 46.5 percent (2016), 50.8 percent (2018), and 48.8 percent (2020) – reapportionment will cost New York at least one congressional seat. Considering the 22nd District needs the second-largest influx of residents in the state, and it is a swing area, and it sits in the middle of the upstate region, this CD appears to be the prime candidate for elimination. Therefore, we are unlikely to see another race run again within these particular confines.


TX-24: Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Irving) – 48.8%

Former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, despite President Biden carrying this district 52-46 percent over ex-President Trump, rebounded to score a 48.8 – 47.5 percent victory over Democrat Candace Valenzuela to keep this seat in the Republican column. Rep. Van Duyne should be the beneficiary of redistricting.

Having to shed at least 90,000 people from a district whose 2019 population figure exceeded 832,000, GOP map drawers should be able to make the new CD more favorable to its freshman incumbent. Putting one of Texas’ projected three new seats in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area would allow all of the marginal Republican districts to again become solid because a new area Democratic seat will likely be constructed.

It remains to be seen how redistricting ultimately plays out, but Rep. Van Duyne, at the outset of the process, should see a more favorable district.


UT-4: Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Salt Lake City) – 47.7%

As with many of the smaller population western states, one major city dominates a region. Such is the case with Utah’s Salt Lake City. All four of the Beehive State’s congressional districts either cover or lie in close proximity to the major metropolitan area.

Freshman Rep. Owens scored a close win over one-term Democratic incumbent Ben McAdams last November, and this appears to be another instance where re-drawing the district should help the new office holder.

Utah does not gain a seat in this reapportionment, and three of the state’s four seats need a population influx. Fortunately for Owens, his 4th District must shed approximately 50,000 people.

In a state where Republicans will control the redistricting process, it is very likely that the map drawers will be able to use the population transfer to make this seat more favorable for the new congressman. This will always be a relatively competitive seat, but we can expect to see a better Republican to Democrat ratio in this Salt Lake City area congressional district for the 2022 election.


WA-10: Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Tacoma) – 49.3%

Though freshman Rep. Strickland, the former Tacoma mayor, only scored 49 percent of the vote last November, the number is a misnomer. Under Washington’s top-two jungle primary system, a pair of Democrats advanced into the general election, thus the party’s candidates together recorded just under 85 percent of the vote. In a probable race against a Republican come 2022, this seat will perform as a safe Democratic district.

Washington will remain constant with 10 congressional seats for the ensuing decade, and Strickland’s 10th District will only need to shed about 10,000 people to bring it into line under the projected population quotas. Therefore, this seat’s core will likely remain intact.

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