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Who Wins Control of the House?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, October 29, 2000

NOTE: The next edition of "Political Junkie" will appear Monday, Nov. 6, on the eve of the national election.

Question: What House seats will the GOP and Democrats lose? Which party will control the House next year? – Richard Lash, Arlington, Va.

Two of the more vulnerable House incumbents. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: There are at least 30 House seats that at this point could go either way. And with Democrats needing only six to take control – actually seven, if you count California 31 (more on that later) – every race must be watched very closely in the next week for late-developing trends. Democrats have a huge advantage in that of the 35 open seats, 26 of them are held by Republicans, and open seats are where most of the party gains and losses take place. On the other hand, some apparent strides made by George W. Bush in the presidential race come in states where crucial House contests are being conducted. So itís hard to get a sense if either side has any momentum.

Anyway, my latest guess is that the Democrats will pick up just two seats, which leaves the GOP in control, 221 to 212, with two independents; the magic number for control is 218. Hereís how it looks (incumbent in parentheses):

Democratic Pickups: Ark. 04 (Jay Dickey), Calif. 27 (Jim Rogan), Fla. 08 (open, Bill McCollum), Ill. 10 (open, John Edward Porter), N.Y. 02 (open, Rick Lazio), N.C. 11 (Charles Taylor), Utah 02 (open, Merrill Cook).

Republican Pickups: Mich. 08 (open, Deborah Stabenow), Mo. 06 (open, Pat Danner), N.J. 12 (Rush Holt), N.Y. 01 (open, Michael Forbes), Pa. 04 (open, Ron Klink), Va. 02 (open, Owen Pickett).

Current Lineup: 222 Republicans, 209 Democrats, 2 independents, 2 vacancies (1R, 1D).

(NOTE: Counted among the Republican seats is that of Rep. Matthew Martinez of California's 31st District. Martinez, a Democratic incumbent, was trounced in his bid for renomination in the June Democratic primary and subsequently proclaimed himself a Republican. With CA 31 nominally in the GOP column, the Dems need seven seats to regain control – and they will assuredly win the 31st back.)

Question: Letís assume the Democrats pick up four seats in the Senate but George W. Bush wins the presidency, thus keeping the Senate (with Vice President Dick Cheney as president of the Senate) in GOP control. What happens if a Republican senator passes away in a state with a Democratic governor? Is it possible in mid-session we would have a new majority leader and committee chairs? – Ed Tiryakian, Hong Kong

Answer: It is certainly possible, but the last time this scenario occurred no change was made. In the 1952 elections, Republicans picked up two Senate seats and won control by a 48-47 tally; there was one independent, Oregon's Wayne Morse, who defected from the GOP earlier in the year. On July 31, 1953, Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) died of cancer, and the Democratic governor of Ohio appointed a Democrat, Thomas Burke, to succeed Taft. But even though the Democrats were handed a 48-47 advantage, they did not make the argument that they should now have control of the committees, stating that they would wait for the 1954 elections to decide how it would play out.

However, five months before the elections came the suicide of Wyoming Democratic Sen. Lester Hunt, and the Republican governor of Wyoming named a Republican to succeed Hunt – giving the numeric advantage back to the GOP by a 48-47 count. The same thing happened shortly after in Nevada, when Sen. Pat McCarran (D) died and was replaced by a Republican. The '54 elections, however, settled the matter, as the Democrats regained control by picking up two seats, and they added another one the following year when Oregon's Morse officially became a Democrat.

Question: In your Oct. 20 column, you pick the Democrats to retain Joe Lieberman's Senate seat in Connecticut. If Gore/Lieberman win the big one, then Lieberman has to leave the Senate and the Republican governor gets to appoint someone (most likely a Republican) to serve until 2002. Is your prediction an indication of who you think will win the presidency, or do you think the Republican governor will appoint a Democrat to the seat if Gore and Lieberman win? – Dave Salman, Durham, N.C.

Answer: All I was saying is that Lieberman will defeat Republican nominee Phil Giordano in November. But if Lieberman does go on to become vice president, and gives up his Senate seat (which he would have to do), GOP Gov. John Rowland will certainly name a Republican replacement, probably either Rep. Chris Shays or Rep. Nancy Johnson.

As for my prediction on who will "win the big one," hereís an electoral college update from my Oct. 13 column (number in parentheses indicates electoral votes). In that column, I had Bush with 234, Gore with 230, and 74 tossup. Needed for election: 270 electoral votes.

California (54)
Connecticut (8)
D.C. (3)
Hawaii (4)
Iowa (7)
Maine (4)
Maryland (10)
Massachusetts (12)
New Jersey (15)
New York (33)
Rhode Island (4)
Vermont (3)
Washington (11)

TOTAL: 168

Alabama (9)
Alaska (3)
Arizona (8)
Colorado (8)
Georgia (13)
Idaho (4)
Indiana (12)
Kansas (6)
Kentucky (8)
Louisiana (9)
Mississippi (7)
Montana (3)
Nebraska (5)
North Carolina (14)
North Dakota (3)
Ohio (21)
Oklahoma (8)
South Carolina (8)
South Dakota (3)
Texas (32)
Utah (5)
Virginia (13)
Wyoming (3)

TOTAL: 205

Arkansas (6)
Delaware (3)
Florida (25)
Illinois (22)
Michigan (18)
Minnesota (10)
Missouri (11)
Nevada (4)
New Hampshire (4)
New Mexico (5)
Oregon (7)
Pennsylvania (23)
Tennessee (11)
West Virginia (5)
Wisconsin (11)

TOTAL: 165

Question: Who is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress? – Vicki Little, Pekin, Ill.

Holtzman was 31 when elected in '72. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.). Born Aug. 11, 1941, she was 31 years old when first elected in 1972. Holtzman won a shocking upset over Judiciary Committee chairman Emanuel Celler, a 50-year House veteran, in the Democratic primary that year and easily held the seat until 1980, when she gave it up for an unsuccessful Senate bid. The youngest woman ever elected to the Senate was Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). She was 38 when she succeeded fellow Democrat Dale Bumpers in 1998.

Question: Your Oct. 20 column on various scenarios in Missouri following Gov. Mel Carnahan's death was interesting, but you didn't discuss one possibility: write-ins. Couldn't someone stage a write-in campaign? And have there ever been any successful write-in campaigns, especially in unusual circumstances such as this one? – Susan Urban, Silver Spring, Md.

Answer: This race is becoming more unusual day by day. As I speculated, Roger Wilson, the new governor of Missouri, announced this week that should the late Gov. Carnahan outpoll GOP Sen. John Ashcroft, he would appoint Carnahan's widow Jean to fill the seat. She is to announce her intentions on Monday, and the guess is that she will say yes; I canít imagine Wilson making his pronouncement without having checked with Mrs. Carnahan first.

There is always the possibility of write-in votes, and in fact Republicans have said the correct way to handle this is that if Democrats want Jean Carnahan as their senator, they should write in her name. But any Jean Carnahan write-in votes would count against votes going to her late husband, and that's not what Democrats wish to see happen. Having recovered somewhat from the shock of the plane crash that took the lives of the governor, his son, and a top aide, Missouri Dems are now pouring a ton of money into the race, urging a vote for Carnahan and distributing "Still for Mel" buttons – a point I mention here only because I donít have any and want them. (If this ruse to make you feel sorry for me works, send the buttons to me c/o NPR, 635 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001).

If this is not uncomfortable enough, one wonders how Ashcroft is going to be able to campaign. He certainly can't (and won't) run against Mel Carnahan's eight-year stewardship as governor, and he can't (and absolutely won't) say anything negative about Jean Carnahan. So he's really in a bind. Adding to the bizarre nature of this situation, one poll actually has Mel Carnahan ahead; it's as if voters are taking out their grieving for their late governor on Ashcroft. No dead candidate, by the way, has ever been elected to the Senate.

Runnels's death in 1980 led to a successful write-in campaign. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Regarding your question about a write-in campaign under similar circumstances, Iím reminded of a New Mexico congressional election in 1980. Democratic incumbent Harold Runnels, who was unopposed, died that August. Party members selected David King as the replacement Democratic nominee. But because there had been no Republican candidate prior to Runnels's death, state election officials refused to allow the GOP to place its replacement candidate, Joe Skeen, on the November ballot. Both Skeen and Runnels's widow (who resented the way Democrats selected King as her husband's replacement) decided to run write-in campaigns, and Skeen won.

There has been one senator elected on write-in votes: Strom Thurmond. On Sept. 1, 1954, Sen. Burnet Maybank (D-S.C.) died. Thurmond, a former governor, was clearly interested in the job. But the State Democratic Committee, angry that Thurmond had the audacity to run against Sen. Olin Johnston in the 1950 Democratic primary, decided on state Sen. Edgar Brown as its nominee. Thurmond launched a "let the people decide" write-in campaign and beat Brown handily in the primary, which was good enough back then in one-party South Carolina.

Question: Sen. Slade Gorton (R) of Washington is unusual in that he has held both of his state's Senate seats. How often has that happened? – Paul Kinkel, Wilmington, Del.

Answer: Gorton managed to pull this off by winning one seat in 1980, losing it in 1986, and then running for and winning the state's other seat in 1988. One of the more interesting examples of senators holding both seats involved William Purtell, a Connecticut Republican. Purtell was in the middle of running against Sen. Bill Benton (D) in 1952 when the other senator, Brien McMahon (D), died in August. Gov. John Davis Lodge (R) appointed Purtell to fill the McMahon seat until the November special election could be held, which was won by Prescott Bush (R) over Abe Ribicoff (D). Purtell, meanwhile, defeated Sen. Benton for the other Senate seat. Hereís some of the senators who were elected to both of their stateís seats:

• Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) was elected in 1986 with the pledge that he would not seek re-election unless the federal budget deficit was reduced during his term in office. It was not and so he kept his word. However, a couple of months before his term was to come to an end, the stateís other senator, Quentin Burdick (D), died. Conrad then won a special election that year to fill Burdick's seat. In the course of the same day, Conrad resigned one Senate seat and assumed the other.

• Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) was appointed to a seat in 1974 but promptly lost his bid for the nomination in that year's primary to John Glenn; Metzenbaum then unseated Sen. Robert Taft Jr. (R) for the other seat in 1976.

• Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) served from 1949 until his resignation in 1964 following his election as vice president. He was succeeded by Walter Mondale. Two years after Humphrey's defeat for the presidency in 1968, he came back and won an open seat and served until his death in 1978.

• Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) served from 1953 until he gave up his seat in 1964 to seek the presidency. He was succeeded by Paul Fannin. Goldwater came back to win an open seat in 1968.

• Chapman Revercomb (R-W.Va.) was elected in 1942 and unseated in a rematch six years later. He then won a 1956 special election for the other seat but lost that one two years later to Robert Byrd (D), who still serves.

• Joseph OíMahoney (D-Wyo.) served from 1934 until his defeat in 1952. He then won a special election for the other seat in 1954 and served one term.

• Alben Barkley (D-Ky.) served from 1927 until he was elected Veep in 1948. After he left the vice presidency, Barkley defeated Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R) in 1954.

• Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) served from 1937 until he resigned in 1944 to join the Army, the first person since the Civil War to leave the Senate to go to battle. Once out of the service, he unseated a Democratic senator in 1946 but lost the seat six years later to John F. Kennedy.

• Guy Gillette (D-Iowa) served from 1936 until his defeat in 1944. He then won the other seat in 1948, only to be unseated once more in 1954.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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