New Hampshire officials just scheduled a pivotal special election in the Republican-run state House that could see each party wind up with exactly 200 seats in the chamber and potentially put control of the body up for grabs in the future.
The state Executive Council on Wednesday ordered that a primary for Rockingham County’s 1st District take place on Aug. 1, with a general election on Sept. 19. If, however, only one Republican and one Democrat file by the June 9 deadline, then the primary would be skipped and the general election would get bumped up to the day that nominating contests would have otherwise been held.
The district in question became vacant after Republican Rep. Benjamin Bartlett, who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, resigned in April, citing health issues. However, a report in the Boston Globe (building off a post by blogger Doug Bates) suggested that the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity, may have played a role.
Whatever the reason for his departure, Bartlett’s district is a competitive one: Donald Trump carried it by less than a point in 2020, 49.1 to 48.7, and the trends appear to be favorable for Democrats, since Trump’s margin in 2016 was more than 8 points. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, meanwhile, won the district 50-48 during her successful campaign for reelection last year as Democrats fell just 10 votes shy of securing one of the district’s three seats. (Only one seat will be up in the special.)
At the moment, Republicans hold 200 seats in the House and Democrats 198, with a separate special election for a safely blue seat likely this fall. If Democrats prevail in both, that would lead to an exact 200-all tie, though it’s not clear whether control of the chamber would immediately be impacted. That’s because at least five Democrats voted for Republican Sherman Packard as speaker, and they may or may not be interested in returning to the fold. (We don’t know who those wayward Democrats are, by the way, because the speaker is elected via secret ballot.)
However, more specials are likely, particularly after the current legislative session adjourns on June 29, which is when a new budget must pass. Party leaders will undoubtedly try to forestall more resignations, but turnover is always high in the New Hampshire House, where lawmakers are paid just $100 a year. And given Democratic success in special elections both in the Granite State and nationwide this year, there’s good reason to think they’ll be able to increase their numbers as the opportunity arises.