Heath Shuler: Kingmaker

Steve Kornacki has a terrific column today that riffs on the intriguing—though still very, very hypothetical—scenario Patrick Healy described in Sunday’s “Week in Review” section of the Times. Healy suggested that Michael Bloomberg could play the role of the kingmaker in the election by taking a few big states, depriving the major party candidates of a majority of electoral votes, and then throwing his support to one or the other candidates in return for some sort of policymaking role, the way the Free Democrats sometimes do Germany. Kornacki takes the scenario a step further, examining what would happen if no candidate won a majority of electoral votes and the election was thrown to the House of Representatives.

Healy, quoting Mario Cuomo, suggested that the Democratic candidate would win in the House as a matter of course, so long as Nancy Pelosi remained Speaker. But it’s not quite that simple, because the Constitution dictates that the election would go not to the candidate with the loyalty of a majority of House members, but to the one who wins the most state delegations. I’ll let you read Kornacki’s column to get the gritty details, but basically, the Democrats only control 26 state delegations—a majority of one—and several of those could easily swing to the Republicans in 2008, even if the House as a whole does not.

Obviously, this is all a loooooong way off, but you have to believe that the strategists at the DCCC and RNCC are already thinking about this. As things stand right now, the results of a single house race in, say, North Carolina could swing the state-delegation balance from one party to the other. Which means that the fate of the free world could hang on the reelection of Heath Shuler. Rahm Emmanuel better hope he’s better at campaigning than he is at softball.

UPDATE: Kornacki, who is clearly way more well-versed in the intricacies of the 12th Amendment than I am, points out that the selection of the president would take placebefore the next Congress convenes, and so the makeup of the House (barring deaths or resignations) would be the same as it is now. Oops. 

One final point, though: As Kornacki points out in his column, Democrats who represent states that went for the GOP–such as South Dakota–would likely come under intense pressure to vote according to the wishes of their districts. Wouldn't that pressure be even more intense for a defeated incumbent? I recall some Democrats making the same "will of the people" argument during Clinton's impeachment, which took place after the Republicans sustained losses in the 1998 midterms, though we all know how that turned out in the end.