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Salena Zito


The House, White House and 2016

by Salena Zito
 

MANNS CHOICE, Pa.

Because of a congressman's persistence in getting a post office for this unincorporated Bedford County village of a handful of people in 1848, this town got his name.

The U.S. Postal Service issued maps calling it Manns Choice, without ceremony or even asking Congressman Rob Mann, for whom they named it.

Mann was swept into Congress during Andrew Jackson's second term, and swept out two years later when the Whigs played off the unpopularity of Jackson's refusal to compromise with Congress or cooperate with the Supreme Court.

Mann eventually came back and won election twice when a Democrat ran the White House.

The House has always swung with the country's mood. While most polls put its ratings in the tank these days, there rarely has been a time in our history when that wasn't the case.

A year from now we will obsess (as we are today) over who will win the White House, although perhaps to a lesser degree since there will be only two candidates at that point. Yet equally important is which party will control the House when the new president takes his or her oath.

Democrats must win 30 seats to capture the House; the chances of that happening are quite low.

"It's common for the House to change hands in years when there is a backlash against the party in power. But, of course, the Democrats are in power right now, so any backlash would go against them," said Kyle Kondik, political analyst for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

If Democrats win the White House, that would be an affirmation of Barack Obama and his party. Maybe we'd see a House result similar to 2012 when Democrats won 201 House seats, said Kondik – a net gain of 13 seats over today.

Something like that seems reasonable, if Democrats win the White House.

Republicans are overextended in the House, but not dramatically so. They control 26 seats won by Obama-led Democrats in 2012, Kondik explained: "Compare that to pre-2010, when Democrats defended 48 seats" won by John McCain-led Republicans in 2008.

The one wild card is Republicans nominating a terrible presidential candidate; that definitely could put the House in play for Democrats.

If Republicans win the White House, they might lose only a handful of House seats – or they could gain a few.

"Obviously, if the Democratic nominee does poorly, that increases the chances of Republicans making an addition to their majority," said Kondik.

The overall outlook right now is that Democrats should net a small number of seats, assuming a close presidential contest.

In Pennsylvania's Bedford County, for example, the likelihood is slim that Republican Rep. Bud Shuster could lose his seat, not to a Democrat but to his primary rival, Art Halvorson.

Kondik sees little evidence of a primary slaughter of incumbents of either party: "Some House incumbents will lose … but it'll just probably be a small number, if history is any indication."

In the 2014 midterms, 99 percent of House members who sought re-nomination won it.

The post-World War II average in the House is about 98 percent, so 2014 was slightly above average, said Kondik.

He is watching some congressmen – California Democrat Mike Honda, who faces a rematch with hard-charging Ro Khanna, and Tennessee Republican Scott DesJarlais, who barely won in 2014 and faces a strong challenge from former Mitt Romney aide Grant Starrett.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Bucks County seat held by Republican Mike Fitzpatrick is only slightly Republican-leaning and could be a toss-up.

Open seats are the ones likeliest to sway with presidential results, Kondik says. And "some of 2014's fluky winners – like Republicans Rod Blum of Iowa and Crescent Hardy of Nevada, and Democrat Brad Ashford from Nebraska – are the likeliest losers this time around."

There also is a little wait-and-see with redistricting in Florida and Virginia; Democrats should benefit from new maps in both states, but each is far from settled.

No governing body is more affected by populism than the House; the interesting thing this time is that both parties are raging against their establishments in the presidential primary run-up. How that trickles down, if at all, to the House remains to be seen.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).


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