updated 9/25/2006 5:13:12 PM ET 2006-09-25T21:13:12

It’s Nov. 8, the day after the election. The costliest and nastiest campaign for control of the House in history is .... not yet over.

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Instead, in this hypothetical case, both parties are short of the 218 seats needed to guarantee control. The outcome will be decided by run-off elections in Louisiana and Texas, recounts in a half-dozen races that are too close to call and perhaps a party switch or two.

Unprecedented? Yes.

Impossible? Absolutely not, given an era of polarization that has produced a presidential election so close the Supreme Court had to settle it, and a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

“It means that all of your focus and energy will be on trying to get to 218 in two ways,” said Steve Elmendorf, who was chief of staff to Dick Gephardt, the former Democratic leader. “One, in recounts and trying to make sure you’re throwing every legal strategy and lawyer you can find into try and win the recounts.

“Secondly, you’re going to be looking for every potential person on the other side who can switch.”

“I have no one in particular in mind,” said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked about Democrats who might be approached to become a Republican. He said he doubted any of his rank-and-file would defect.

Democrats must gain 15 seats to win control of the House, and strategists in both parties agree Republicans are likely to lose at least some ground on Nov. 7.

Post-Nov. 7
Looking past election night, the possibility exists for December runoff elections in Louisiana, where state law turns Election Day into an open primary; and in Texas, where a court ruling had the same effect.

Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District has been heavily Democratic and likely to stay that way, despite the exodus of thousands of residents since Hurricane Katrina. Yet Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., is at the center of a federal bribery investigation, and three of his 12 opponents are Republican.

A runoff will be held Dec. 9 if no candidate gains a majority of the votes Nov. 7, and Republicans nurse hopes that the Democratic vote splinters and Jefferson advances along with a GOP contender.

In Texas, the Supreme Court ruled a San Antonio-area district violated the Constitution, and the lines were redrawn to bring it into compliance. Rep. Henry Bonilla, a Republican, has drawn three major Democratic opponents, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, Lukin Gilliland and Albert Uresti. Democrats hope to deny Bonilla the 50 percent he needs to win re-election outright on Nov. 7, then beat him in a run-off.

In addition, both parties will be ready for races that are too close to call on Nov. 7.

“On election nights we have six to eight teams of people with their bags packed ready to go,” said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the Republican campaign committee. Each team includes a lawyer, a political aide and a communications expert.

For Democrats, “there is a program in place to make sure that if there is a recount in place, there are folks ready to go,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A test of money and loyalty
Recounts mean lawyers, and run-offs mean television commercials. The common denominator is money.

Burton said if the battle for control of the House goes into overtime, Democrats will “raise money like crazy for the recount efforts and for the special elections.” So will the Republicans.

Both parties also will be on the hunt for lawmakers willing to switch allegiances.

It sounds unlikely, given that the winners on Nov. 7, particularly the newcomers, will have benefited handsomely from party assistance.

But at least one challenger has said he doesn’t want to make any pre-election commitments on the choice for speaker.

“I will do my interview process and pick the person that not only fits the best for our district, but also fits our party best,” said Heath Shuler, a Democrat challenging Rep. Charles Taylor in North Carolina.

And the Speaker is ...
The election of a speaker is the first order of business when a new Congress convenes, and underscores the importance of party control. The majority party also decides what legislation comes to a vote, appoints its own lawmakers committee chairmen, decides what hearings to hold and what investigations to conduct.

The choice of a speaker always falls along party lines, although some Democrats have strayed in recent years.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., voted for a Democrat, but not Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California in 2005. Interviewed recently, he said, “if it comes out to my vote deciding whether I can be a subcommittee chairman, I’m going to vote in the nation’s best interests as well as my own,” and go with Pelosi.

Then there are factors beyond the reach of mortals.

Republicans won control of the House by one seat after the votes were counted in 1930, according to Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House. Between Election Day and the time Congress convened, 19 lawmakers had died, and special elections to pick replacements delivered control to the Democrats.

Can it happen again?

“Their guys are older than our guys,” said one Republican aide.

He was joking, maybe.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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