Update: U.S. House of Representatives and the 2020 election

By Lauren Leazenby

The latest news out of the U.S. House of Representatives is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has backed away from her original deadline for the House and Senate to reach a compromise on the COVID-19 stimulus package.  The two sides will continue negotiations, though Pelosi warned a stimulus may not come before Election Day.  And because opposing houses rarely pass legislation between the election and inauguration, the fate of the economic aid package may be the responsibility of the new session of Congress.

While the Democrats are not projected to lose their majority in the House, the exact seats will likely shuffle. Data by FiveThirtyEight suggests the Democrats will likely have a net gain of seats — from four to 11 seats depending on different statistical models — though some districts will be lost. 

FiveThirtyEight, which focuses on polling and statistical analysis, recently named Rep. Collin Peterson the Democrats’ “most vulnerable incumbent.” Rep. Peterson, who represents Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District is trailing in the polls; according to a Tarrance Group poll conducted Aug. 2-5 among 413 likely voters, Rep. Peterson sits at 42% while his Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach is at 52%.

Ballotpedia, a political encyclopedia, lists 41 of 435 House races as “battlegrounds” as determined by the margin of victory in the 2018 midterm elections  The incumbents in these “battlegrounds” are equally Republican and Democrats, with one Libertarian incumbent.

Still, an underlying function of the House to act in a hypothetical scenario remains on many minds at this point in the election season: the power to elect the president in the case of an electoral college tie. According to Politico, it has become increasingly likely that the electoral college will not decide the 2020 election. Congress is set to certify the electoral college vote on Jan. 6, 2021. If the presidency is not yet decided by that point — as in, neither Biden nor Trump has received the 270 electoral votes needed to win — Congress has the power to vote to elect the president.

The new House delegation elected this November would cast those votes.  And while the squarely Democratic House is unlikely to flip to a Republican majority, this vote hinges on entire state delegations.

This means states that have Republican-held, at-large seats are particularly important races to watch.  In Montana, a poll conducted Sept. 14-Oct. 2 of 1,615 likely voters by Montana State University Bozeman, Republican candidate Matt Rosendale is leading Democrat candidate Kathleen Williams 46% to 48% in an open race.

In Alaska, incumbent Republican Rep. Don Young is leading in the polls with 49% compared to Democrat candidate Alyse Galvin’s 41%, according to a poll conducted by Siena College/New York Times Upshot among 423 likely voters from Oct. 9-4.

A closer race many are still watching is another seat Democrats may lose in November: New Mexico’s 2nd District. The Washington Post called incumbent Democrat Rep. Xochitl Torres Small the “Democrats’ most vulnerable member of Congress right now.”  She represents a conservative district that voted for Trump in 2016, and is up against Republican Yvette Herrell, who was also her challenger in 2018. Currently, the polls have Torres Small marginally behind, with 47% to Herrell’s 48%, according to a poll by Tarrance Group conducted from Sept. 26-29 among 400 likely voters.

Almost forty House GOP members are retiring this year, according to Pew Research Center, leaving races like the Texas’ 23rd Congressional District open. Republican Tony Gonzales and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones are vying for a spot in a district that voted for Clinton in 2016.  According to the Texas Tribune, this is “one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities nationwide this fall.” The latest poll of this district conducted Oct. 3-5 by Public Opinion Strategies shows a close race: Among 400 likely voters, Ortiz Jones is at 42% and Gonzales is at 41%.

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