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Yes, we are electing state legislatures, too

With all the focus on the battle for Congress, it’s easy to forget that 46 states will hold legislative elections for 99 chambers on November 2. Democrats currently control 61 of them. There is no doubt they will lose some. The question is how many.

The legislative races are important for many reasons, but from a national point of view, they matter because in most states, legislatures (along with governors, where the GOP will also make gains) will be drawing new district lines for the House of Representatives, based on the 2010 Census. If a party is going to have a good year, the zero-year at the end of a decade is an excellent moment to post gains.

On the other hand, while Republicans will definitely be helped by this year’s results, it’s not clear how much better they can make things for themselves, given that the districts that now exist were also drawn at a moment when Republicans had a lot of power in the states, after the 2000 elections.

First, the unhappy news for the Democrats: They will lose ground in the state legislatures, and may lose quite a lot of it. At the end of September, Louis Jacobson, who does excellent work following legislative elections for Governing magazine, offered this take on what’s going on, suggesting that Democrats could lose at least ten legislative chambers, and are at risk of losing 27:

In our new assessment -- the second of three we will do before Election Day -- we find 28 chambers "in play," a net increase of one from July. Of the 28, the Democrats currently control 25, with just one held by the GOP and two currently tied. (Chambers that are rated tossups and lean Democratic/lean Republican are considered to be "in play.")

As we indicated in July, this is a terrible combination for the Democrats -- both an unusually large number of chambers are in play at the same time (32 percent of all chambers up this cycle -- the highest percentage recorded in the five cycles this author has been handicapping the legislatures), and there's a startlingly unprecedented lean toward one party, the GOP.

In none of the previous five cycles -- which included two national wave elections (2006 and 2008) and a heavily anti-incumbent cycle for governors (2002) -- was there ever this wide a difference in projected risk between the two parties. Instead, the typical ratio of vulnerable chambers between the parties has been close to even.

Putting it all together, we estimate that the Democrats are on the verge of losing a net of four to 12 Senate chambers and six to 15 House chambers. At the higher end of those ranges, the control numbers for state legislative chambers would be fully reversed. Today, there are significantly more Democratic-controlled state Houses and Senates. But if the GOP makes strong enough gains, it could hand the Republicans sizable leads in both chambers -- just as the decennial redistricting process is set to begin.

In all, we've shifted 18 chambers from their July ratings -- all in the Republicans' direction.

The consulting firm Stateside offered this helpful list of legislative houses in which a shift of just five seats would change party control:

Alaska House (R)
Alaska Senate (D)
Arizona Senate (R)
California Senate (D)
Colorado Senate (D)
Indiana House (D)
Kentucky Senate (R)
Maine Senate (D)
Michigan Senate (R)
Montana House (Tied)
Montana Senate (R)
Nevada Senate (D)
New Hampshire Senate (D)
New York Senate (D)
North Dakota Senate (R)
Ohio House (D)
Oklahoma Senate (R)
Oregon Senate (D)
Pennsylvania House (D)
Pennsylvania Senate (R)
South Dakota Senate (R)
Tennessee House (R)
Tennessee Senate (R)
Texas House (R)
Texas Senate (R)
Wisconsin House (D)
Wisconsin Senate (D)

Now all this will have an important impact on the drawing of district lines for the 2012 House elections. The more legislative power the Republicans have, the better their chances of drawing maps that elect more Republicans. But Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University and my Brookings Institution colleagues, has made the point that Democrats might get some substantial help, even with expected losses in legislative chambers, if they win Governorships in a few big states, notably Florida, where the current Congressional lines favor Republicans. Florida now has 25 House seats and is expected to gain a seat or two from the 2010 Census, and Democrat Alex Sink is given at least an even chance of winning the Governorship. In Ohio, which has 18 seats and is expected to lose 2, the district lines are determined by a Commission made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State and the State Auditor.

By E.J. Dionne  | October 20, 2010; 8:56 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Next: Why haven't all the world's countries become democracies?

Comments

14 House Democrats are asking for Nancy Pelosi to step down! This administration
is Falling Apart, one by one.
This is what happens when you don't have
a "true" leader, by the way.

Posted by: ohioan | October 20, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Mr Dionne,

what besides sugar & cream are you putting in your morning coffee?

the DIMocRATS are going to get SLAUGHTERED by the TEA PARTY & our friends in the GOP & MILLIONS of Independents. = face it, Sir, the DIMs are FINISHED at least for a generation, as they are NOT TRUSTED to be honest/decent/have common sense.
(when they passed "obamacare" against the wishes of 70+% of American voters, they were FINISHED & NOTHING that any DIMocRAT can say/do is going to stop the tidal wave that will sweep the DIMs out off office. ====> = then we go after BHO & the rest of the DIMs, starting in Jan 2011.)

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | October 20, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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