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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Dems Win the State Legs in ’06?

Oceans of ink (and mountains of bytes) have been devoted to the Democrats’ prospects for winning control of the U.S. Congress in November. But not so much has been written about another critical priority for Dems in ’06 — winning control of state legislatures. This is an important goal, not only because state legislatures pass laws that have an impact on our communities, but also because they are the key to redistricting for the U.S. House of Representatives and the “farm clubs” for future congressional candidates.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans have a less than one percent lead (62 seats) over Democrats in holding the nation’s 7382 state legislative seats. The GOP has the majority of both houses in 21 states, compared to 17 for the Democrats. Eleven states have divided control and the unicameral Nebraska legislature has nonpartisan elections. Less than two dozen state legislators in the nation are independents or third party members. And if you take a peak at this map, the southeast doesn’t look so red — Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi are solid blue in terms of control of state legislatures.
Not all state legislative seats are up in November. Some are term limited (268 seats in ’06) and a few states are not holding elections for their state house or senate or both this year. Other states stagger the seats up for election every two years. But voters in the 50 states will elect 6181 state legislators.
That’s a lot more races than the Congress’s 435 House and 33 Senate elections, and so in a sense the vote for state legislators may be a better barometer for political trends leading up to 2008.
Democrats could win control of a majority of state legislatures, but it will require a broad rout of the GOP. Their best chances for pick-ups, numerically speaking, are AK (-4 Senate); IN (-4 House); IA (-2 House and tie Senate); MN (-2 House); MT (tie house); NV (-3 Senate); and TN (-1 Senate). However Dems have similarly small majority margins to defend in CO (both houses); Maine (both houses); MS (House); MT (Senate); NJ (Senate); NM (Senate); OK (Senate) and WA (Senate).
The races in the state legs may not be as flashy as those in the Congress. But the state legislatures will be passing laws about immigration, same-sex marriage, funding for education, taxes and many other issues that affect our lives. And do watch the vote for state legislators for clues to the Democrats’ chances in 2008.