This is part two of three Election Primers to help you get ready for Election Day.  To read our earlier post on the Presidential race, click here.

The House – The Basics

There are 435 Congressmen and women in the House of Representatives.  Members only serve two year terms, so every House seat is up for grabs in each election cycle.

Congressional districts are determined by population.  Each district represents an average of about 700,000 people, but the exact numbers can vary widely.  The largest Congressional district encompasses the entire state of Montana, with almost one million residents.  Rhode Island’s two districts are the smallest, with fewer than 600,000 residents each.  California has the most Congressional districts (53), while seven states (Alaska, Delaware Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont) have only one “at-large” Representative.

Each state is assigned a set number of districts every ten years following the U.S. Census, but each state is generally allowed to set the boundaries of those.  The 2012 election will be the first to feature new districts put in place following the 2010 Census.

The House operates under simple majority rule, so a party needs to have 218 seats in order to ensure control of the Chamber.  Currently, Republicans hold 240 seats, Democrats control 190, and five are temporarily vacant.

2012 Election Outlook

This year’s election will likely see more turnover than most, due in large part to the new district boundaries in each state.  Several sitting members were put into districts against other current members, and a number have already lost party primaries in their quest for reelection.  On November 6th, there will be five Congressional general elections pitting current incumbents against one another:

  • Ohio-16th: Rep. Jim Renacci (R) vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D)
  • Iowa-3rd: Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) vs. Rep. Tom Latham (R)
  • California-44th: Rep. Janice Hahn (D) vs. Rep. Laura Richardson (D)
  • California-30th: Rep. Brad Sherman (D) vs. Rep. Howard Berman (D)
  • Louisiana-3rd: Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R) vs. Rep. Jeff Landry (R)

In addition to members being ousted by redistricting, 40 members (21 Democrats and 19 Republicans) are either retiring or seeking higher office.

But despite this heavy turnover, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will gain the nearly 30 seats they would need to return to the House majority.  The general consensus as of today (and these things can change quickly) is that Democrats will see a net gain of somewhere between four and ten seats.  For information on how the House races are trending, check out the Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics, and the New York Times House Ratings.

What It Means for 2013

Barring an unexpected Democratic surge, Republicans will maintain a voting majority on all legislation, as well as control of the Speaker’s gavel and chairmanship of the committees.  If President Obama is reelected, you can expect a continuation of the status quo with House members attempting to slow or stall most of the President’s agenda.  If Governor Romney is elected, there will be a major push to implement portions of the Republican platform, including repeal and possible replacement of the Affordable Care Act, as well as significant reductions in government spending.  Whether that agenda is ultimately successful would then depend on what happens in the Senate, which we will discuss in the coming days in our final election primer.  Stay tuned.