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Defeated Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Rita Hart, who lost her race by a mere six votes, making it the closest contest in decades, will challenge the results directly in the House of Representatives, forgoing state channels.
Iowa certified the contest tally this week, declaring Republican physician Mariannette Miller-Meeks the winner of the open seat in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.
Iowa has certified Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) as the winner over Rita Hart (D) by six votes, 196,964 to 196,958 in #IA02. Hart plowing ahead w/ legal challenge.
Apparently when we said this would be a "single digit race," we really meant it this time.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) December 1, 2020
Politico reported Wednesday that rather than contest the results of a narrow-thin margin through state processes, Hart will instead trigger a rarely-used House mechanism for challenging the outcome, not used since 1984. According to Politico, Hart is leveraging the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969, sending the case to the House Administration Committee, which will conduct its own investigation, followed by a recommendation to the full chamber. Members will then vote by simple majority to declare the final winner.
The law was last applied to determine the outcome of an Indiana congressional race between Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey and Republican challenger Richard McIntyre in 1984. At the time, Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, presiding over a wider majority than presented to Democrats today, denied McIntyre the seat despite state officials certifying the race. After the General Accounting Office found McCloskey the winner by four votes, the House voted to confirm O’Neill’s decision.
The stakes this year are far higher for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, after unexpected losses, is entering the weakest point in her speakership for the upcoming 117th Congress. According to the New York Times House tracker, Republicans flipped 13 seats with a net gain of 10, chipping away at the Democratic majority and putting the GOP in a good position to reclaim the lower chamber in the 2022 midterms, in which the party of the president in power typically fairs poorly. Pelosi could wind up presiding over a mere five-vote majority once all races are declared.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement he’s skeptical that the desperate House speaker would oversee a fair process in the House.
“Pelosi didn’t follow the rules of her state when she went to a hair salon during lockdown; she certainly isn’t going to follow our rules when it comes to Iowans electing our representatives,” Kaufmann said. “This utterly shameful attempt to upend the will of the voters of the 2nd District will leave the very people Hart wished to represent voiceless in Washington D.C. until this shame is sorted out.”
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel shared Kaufmann’s pessimism.
“Democrats are now trying to subvert the [Iowa] system and appeal to Nancy Pelosi to overturn the results,” McDaniel wrote on Twitter.
Control of the Senate, meanwhile, rests on the fate of two Republican incumbents facing off Democratic challengers in the January runoff election in Georgia. Democrats need to pick up both seats in the state narrowly captured by former Vice President Joe Biden for the upper chamber to break even, which, pending legal challenges, would make Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote as vice president.