Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called a special election for Texas’ 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House. The special election will fill the vacancy left by Ronald Wright (R), who died from complications related to COVID-19 on February 7, 2021. The general election will be held May 1, 2021. The filing deadline is March 3, 2021.
Two other special elections have been scheduled for vacant seats in the 117th United States Congress, both U.S. House seats in Louisiana. Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District became vacant after Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) joined the Biden administration as senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District became vacant when Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R) died on December 29, 2020, from complications related to COVID-19 before he was sworn into office.
Fifty special elections to the United States Congress were held during the 113th through 116th Congresses. During that time, special elections were called for 16 seats vacated by Democrats and 34 vacated by Republicans.
As of February 23, Texas’ U.S. House delegation has 13 Democrats, 22 Republicans, and one vacancy. The U.S. House has 221 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and three vacancies. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.
Seventy-one new members were elected to the 117th U.S. Congress on Nov. 3, 2020, or in subsequent runoff elections: nine new senators and 62 new representatives. This includes Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.), who died from complications related to COVID-19 on Dec. 29.
The last race was called on Feb. 8, when the New York Board of Elections voted to certify the results of New York’s 22nd Congressional District election after months of legal challenges.
Five senators — one Democrat and four Republicans — were defeated by candidates of the opposing party. Thirteen members of the U.S. House, all Democrats, were defeated by Republican challengers.
All 435 U.S. House seats and 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats were up for election in 2020. In 53 of the 470 seats up for election — four in the Senate and 49 in the House — a non-incumbent was guaranteed to be elected. Republicans held 38 of those seats, Democrats held 14, and a Libertarian held one.
In the Senate, the four open seats were held by three retiring Republicans and one retiring Democrat. In the House, the 49 open seats were held by 35 Republicans, 13 Democrats, and one Libertarian. Thirty-six seats were open because the incumbent did not seek re-election. This included 26 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one Libertarian. Eight seats — held by five Republicans and three Democrats — were open because the incumbent was defeated in a primary or convention. Five seats were vacant, including the one Democratic seat left open by Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) death and four Republican seats left open by resignations and appointments.
Incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D) conceded the election to represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District on Feb. 8, 2021, to Claudia Tenney (R). His concession follows several months of legal challenges from Brindisi and Tenney over the validity of certain absentee and affidavit ballots cast in the Nov. 3, 2020, election.
Brindisi announced his concession hours after the New York Board of Elections voted to certify the results of the election. Tenney led by 109 votes.
In a statement, Brindisi said: “Today I congratulated Claudia Tenney and offered to make the transition process as smooth as possible on behalf of our community. […] It is time to close the book on this election and focus on building a better community and more united country for our children.”
Tenney responded to Brindisi’s Feb. 8 concession in a tweet: “I really appreciate Anthony’s call today and thank him for his service. He graciously offered to help ensure a smooth transition and I look forward to working with him over the coming days to complete that process on behalf of everyone in NY22.”
To read more about the legal proceedings in New York’s 22nd Congressional District, click here.
Rep. Ronald Wright (R-Texas) passed away from complications related to coronavirus on Feb. 7. He was diagnosed with the disease on Jan. 21. Wright was first elected to Texas’ 6th Congressional District in 2018, serving until his death in 2021.
Wright ran for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 3, winning with 52.8% of the vote to Stephen Daniel’s (D) 44%. Prior to joining the U.S. House, Wright served as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector from 2011 to 2017.
According to Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.” As of Feb. 8, two special elections to the U.S. House had been called: Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. With Wright’s death, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House is 221 Democrats, 210 Republicans, and four vacancies.
Candidates interested in running in the special election for Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts and District 4 of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) had until January 22, 2021, to file. The primary is scheduled for March 20, and the general election, if needed, is set for April 24.
The 2nd Congressional District special election was called after it was announced that Cedric Richmond (D) had been chosen as a senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement for the then-incoming Joe Biden presidential administration. Richmond served from 2011 until he left office on January 15. Fifteen candidates filed for the seat, including eight Democrats, four Republicans, one Libertarian, and two independents.
The 5th Congressional District special election was called after newly elected officeholder Luke Letlow (R) died on December 29, 2020, from complications related to COVID-19. He was scheduled to assume office on January 3. Thirteen candidates filed for the seat, including two Democrats, nine Republicans, and two independents.
The BESE special election was called after Tony Davis (R) left office to devote more time to his job as a senior director at the National Association of Manufacturers on January 20. Davis served from 2016 to 2021. Six candidates filed for the seat, including two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents.
Louisiana elections use the majority-vote system. All candidates compete in the same primary, and a candidate can win the election outright by receiving more than 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two vote recipients from the primary advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliation.
Ballotpedia is also covering two Court of Appeals special elections and one state legislative special election in Louisiana on March 20. The state legislative special filing deadline is January 27.
The average margin of victory in the 2020 elections for U.S. House was lower than at any point since at least 2012.
A margin of victory refers to the difference between the share of the vote received by the winning candidate and the share of the vote received by the runner-up. For example, suppose Candidate A wins an election with 55% of the vote, and Candidate B is the runner-up with 45%. In that scenario, the margin of victory would be 10 percentage points. Margins of victory can be used to measure electoral competitiveness, political party or candidate strength, and, indirectly, the popularity of a particular policy or set of policies.
In the 35 U.S. Senate elections that took place in 2020, the average margin of victory was 18.1%. This is a larger margin than the 16.8% average in the 2018 U.S. Senate elections but smaller than in any other year since 2012. Republicans had a larger average MOV in U.S. Senate elections; the average Republican election winner had a lead of 22.0 percentage points over the runner-up, compared to 12.8 percentage points for the average Democrat.
Democrats won four of the five closest U.S. Senate elections in 2020, with the closest being Jon Ossoff’s (D) 0.83 percentage point margin over incumbent David Perdue (R) in the regularly-scheduled Georgia Senate election. The closest U.S. Senate election won by a Republican was incumbent Thom Tillis’ (R) 1.75 percentage point win over Cal Cunningham (D) in North Carolina.
Republicans won four of the five elections with the widest margins of victory, with the widest margin being Cynthia Lummis’ (R) 46.09 percentage point win over Merav Ben-David (D) in Wyoming. The largest margin for a Democratic senator was incumbent Jack Reed’s (D) 33.12 percentage point win over Allen Waters (R) in Rhode Island.
In the 435 U.S. House elections that took place in 2020, the average margin of victory was 28.8%. This is down from 31.8 percentage points in 2018 and is the narrowest average margin in U.S. House elections since at least 2012. Reversing the pattern in the Senate, Democrats had a larger average margin in House elections. The average Democratic election winner had a margin of 31.5 percentage points, compared to 26.0 percentage points for the average Republican.
There were three U.S. House elections decided by margins of 500 votes or fewer. The narrowest was Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ (R) six-vote win over Rita Hart (D) in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, the closest U.S. House election since 1984. As of Jan. 15, a winner had not been declared in New York’s 22nd Congressional District, but Claudia Tenney (R) led incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D) by 29 votes. Finally, incumbent Mike Garcia (R) defeated Christy Smith (D) by 333 votes in California’s 25th Congressional District. In 2018, the closest U.S. House election was incumbent Rob Woodall’s (R) 433-vote win over Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.
Leaving out the results of New York’s 22nd Congressional District (which is all but certain to be among the top 10 closest U.S. House elections regardless of which candidate wins), the nine other closest U.S. House races include seven Republican wins and two Democratic wins. The narrowest win by a Democrat was incumbent Tom Malinowski’s (D) 1.22 percentage point margin over Thomas Kean, Jr. (R) in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District.
Not counting elections where a candidate ran unopposed or faced only write-ins, Democrats won each of the 10 least close U.S. House elections. The widest margin in such a race was incumbent Adriano Espaillat’s (D) 83.02 percentage point margin over Lovelynn Gwinn (R) in New York’s 13th Congressional District. The widest margin of victory for a Republican member of the House was incumbent Hal Rogers’ (R) 68.42 percentage point margin over Matthew Ryan Best (D) in Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected speaker of the House on Sunday with 216 votes. Five Democratic representatives did not vote for her: Jared Golden (D-Maine), Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). Golden voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Lamb voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Sherrill, Slotkin, and Spanberger voted “present.” All 209 participating Republican representatives cast their votes for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The speaker of the House is elected on the first day the new Congress convenes. If all 435 members vote, a candidate for speaker of the House must receive at least 218 votes to be elected. If not all members vote or some choose to vote “present,” a candidate must receive a majority of support from those participating in the election. Because 427 representatives voted for someone by name, 214 votes were required for the speaker to be elected.
Pelosi is the sixth speaker elected since 1912 (when the House grew to 435 members) without a majority of the full House membership. The previous speakers elected with fewer than 218 votes during this period were:
“Champ” Clark, elected 1917 with 217 votes
Frederick Gillett, elected 1923 with 215 votes
Sam Rayburn, elected 1943 with 217 votes
Newt Gingrich, elected 1997 with 216 votes
John Boehner, elected 2015 with 216 votes.
Pelosi was selected as the Democratic nominee for speaker of the House by a voice vote on November 18, 2020. She was unopposed.
In 2019, Pelosi was elected speaker of the House with 220 votes. That year, 15 Democrats did not vote for her, including the five who did not vote for her in 2021. Five of the fifteen voted for her in 2021, three lost re-election in November 2020, Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) switched parties in December 2019, and the outcome of Anthony Brindisi’s race in New York’s 22nd Congressional District was unclear as of January 3.
Pelosi previously served as House speaker from 2007 to 2010 and became House minority leader after Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections. Support for or opposition to Pelosi returning to the speakership was a major issue for Democratic candidates in the 2018 U.S. House elections.
On Dec. 14, 2020, the Electoral College cast votes for president and vice president of the United States. Joe Biden (D) won 306 electoral votes, defeating President Donald Trump (R) who won 232. In the same 2020 election cycle, Biden’s Democratic party lost 13 U.S. House seats (one race remains uncalled). How many times has a winning presidential candidate’s party lost U.S. House seats in modern American history?
Since 1920, there have been five presidential election years where where the winning presidential candidate’s party lost U.S. House seats. In all of these cases, the party that lost seats in the House maintained the majority it had going into the election.
The greatest loss of seats in the House by a party that won the presidency happened in 1960. That year, John F. Kennedy (D) won the White House for Democrats and the party lost 21 House seats.
The three other cases all occurred after 1990:
In 1992, Bill Clinton (D) won the White House and the Democratic Party lost nine seats in the House.
In 2000, George W. Bush (R) won the White House and the Republican Party lost two seats in the House.
In 2016, Donald Trump (R) won the White House and the Republican Party lost six seats in the House.
U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) announced on Dec. 14 that he was leaving the Republican Party and changing his affiliation to independent. Mitchell cited differences with the Republican Party leadership for his departure from the party. As a result of leaving the party, Mitchell’s positions on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Armed Services Committee were revoked.
In a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Mitchell said, “I believe that raw political considerations, not constitutional or voting integrity concerns, motivate many in party leadership to support the “stop the steal” efforts, which is extremely disappointing to me…as a result, I am writing to advise you both that I am withdrawing from my engagement and association with the Republican Party at both the national and state level.”
Mitchell is the second member of Michigan’s congressional delegation to leave the Republican Party during the 117th Congress. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (L) became an independent in July 2019 and joined the Libertarian Party in April.
Mitchell was first elected to represent Michigan’s 10th Congressional District in 2016. He did not run for re-election in 2020 and will retire from Congress at the end of his term. Republican Lisa McClain will represent the district once she is sworn into office in January.
With Mitchell’s departure from the Republican Party, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House of Representatives is 233 Democrats, 195 Republicans, one Libertarian, and one Independent, with five vacancies.
Forty congressional incumbents—four in the Senate and 36 in the House—did not run for re-election in 2020. Of these 40 open seats, five (12.5 percent) changed party hands as a result of the 2020 elections. All five changes occurred in the House, where Democrats picked up three open seats previously held by Republicans and Republicans picked up two open seats—one held by a Democrat and the other by a Libertarian. Those seats were:
Georgia’s 7th (Republican to Democrat)
Iowa’s 2nd (Democrat to Republican)
North Carolina’s 2nd (Republican to Democrat)
North Carolina’s 6th (Republican to Democrat)
Michigan’s 3rd (Libertarian to Republican)
In Iowa’s 2nd, certified results showed Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) beating Rita Hart (D) by six votes. Hart indicated she would challenge the results of the election with the U.S. House.
The group of 40 incumbents who did not run for re-election included 10 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and one Libertarian. They represented 8.5 percent of all 470 Congressional offices up for election.
Across all 2020 Congressional elections, 16 seats changed hands. Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate while Republicans picked up one. In the House, Democrats picked up three seats while Republicans picked up 10 seats.