The attention stirred up by the possible third-party presidential candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has focused on two issues:
1) Whether he could actually win and
2) Which party would his candidacy hurt most, the Democrats or the Republicans?
There is, of course, a third issue that so far has been totally ignored: What are the chances that he could win just enough electoral votes to force the election into the U.S. House of Representatives?
This is not just an academic exercise. Under our system, a candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes (270 out of 538) to be elected. You can’t be elected with a plurality of the electoral vote – you must win a majority. If no candidate receives a majority, the next president is picked by the House of Representatives.
This has happened twice in our history -- in 1801 when the House selected Thomas Jefferson and in 1825 when the House selected John Quincy Adams.
OK. The Democrat would win since Democrats are likely to retain control of the House in the next election.
Not so fast.
If the election of the president goes to the House, each state has one vote. New York with 29 Congressmen gets one vote and Idaho with one Congressman gets the same one vote. Members of Congress from each state caucus and decide who gets their state’s vote. If the delegation is tied, no vote is cast. To be elected, the victor must win a majority of the states (26).
Should the election for president be close nationally and if Bloomberg carried his home state of New York (31 electoral votes) and/or the neighboring state of New Jersey (15 electoral votes), the election could, in fact, be thrown into the House.
As a member of the House Rules Committee in 1980, I researched this very issue because there was some concern that the third party candidacy of U.S. Rep. John Anderson, R-Ill., might throw the election into the House. That didn’t happen. Nor did it happen when Ross Perot ran as a third party candidate in 1992. Both were considered real threats at the time but they wound up not winning any electoral votes.
For the current Congress, Democrats control 27 state delegations, Republicans control 20 and three are tied. Any election for president would be conducted in the new House elected in November 2008. It is certainly possible that control of some delegations could change as a result of the 2008 election as some delegations are divided almost evenly.
Members are not bound to vote for the nominee of their party. There are several Southern states that have a Democratic majority in the House (North Carolina, Arkansas) and it is possible that Democrats from those states would be under pressure to vote for the Republican presidential nominee if he carried their particular state by a significant margin.
Voting within state caucuses in the past was by secret ballot though the House could adopt rules requiring an open vote.
At this point, it is not clear whether Mayor Bloomberg will actually run. However, if he does and if he mounts a real campaign (indications are that he might spend as much as one billion dollars of his own money on a race), then you should add a third question (the election being thrown into the U.S. House) at the next cocktail party when this subject comes up.
Politics is a very unpredictable business. Mike Bloomberg could be the ultimate joker in next year’s political deck of cards.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.