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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Setting the Stage for State Legislative Elections

Note: This item is crossposted from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee site.

Heading into Election Day, Democrats control 27 state senate chambers and 30 state houses chambers. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans control 20 state senate chambers and 19 state house chambers. The state senates in Tennessee and Oklahoma are currently tied, and as always, Nebraska elects a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.
In 2006 and 2007, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee helped Democrats pick up 12 new legislative majorities. This year, Democrats in many states will be focused on consolidating control of the chambers we currently hold.
That said, experts currently list 11 chambers as pure toss-ups — seven or which are held by Republicans and only four of which are held by Democrats. We believe November 4th presents an excellent opportunity to continue to expand upon our success.

Looking state by state

Arizona. In Arizona, Republicans have a majority in both chambers, and the GOP has continuously held control over the lower chamber since 1966. Two years ago, Democrats picked up six seats, and now they have an opportunity to make a play for the House of Representatives. And if things continue to trend the right way, Democrats might even be able to gain a majority in the state senate.

California. In California, state law requires that the annual budget be passed by a majority of two-thirds of the lawmakers. Currently, the chamber margins are such that Democrats need the support of eight GOP lawmakers to meet the supermajority required. Earlier this year, the Republican minority in the California Assembly was able to delay the passage of the budget for a record 85 days. That scenario stands to change with this election. Over the course of the last month, Democrats have registered more than 215,000 new voters, negating former GOP registration advantages in a numbers of competitive districts. Democratic leaders in the state are confident that they will be able to make big gains in this year’s legislative elections.

Indiana. The contest for the Indiana House is another battle drawing plenty of attention. The Indianapolis Business Journal previews the race this week. Last cycle control of the chamber came down to a single district where the outcome was decided by just eight votes. This year, that district — Indiana House District 97 — held by Republican Rep. Jon Elrod is again being contested heavily, as are almost a dozen additional districts. Both parties are relying upon traditional voter outreach to make their cases, but Indiana’s position as a national battleground state has led to a huge upswing in voter registration.

Iowa. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers in the Iowa legislature, and this year, much of the political activity is focused on the state house where Republicans are working to retake control. Democrats picked up the chamber two years ago, and currently maintain a six-seat advantage, 53-47. The Quad City Times offers this preview of the election.

Maine. Democrats currently hold a one seat majority in the Maine State Senate — 18/17. In the House, Democrats currently hold 90 of 151 seats but are working to expand their majority. Though they must defend some open seats, Democratic leaders have courted candidates to run in 149 of 151 House districts. A new preview from the Portland Press Herald describes the electoral landscape for both chambers.

Michigan. In an analysis for Governing Magazine, Alan Greenblatt looks at the race for control of the Michigan House. Two years ago, Democrats won the chamber with a slim three-seat majority, and earlier this year, many expected that the House would be hotly contested. Now that doesn’t appear to be the case, and Democrats seem likely to main a majority and perhaps improve on their margins.

Nevada. Both parties are watching the campaign for control of the Nevada Senate unfold. The Associated Press recently wrote a preview of the legislative races in the state. While the senate contests in Clark County get plenty of attention, the AP also makes the point that Democrats might have an opportunity to expand their lead in the lower chamber. Picking up just one additional seat would give our party enough votes to constitute a supermajority and the opportunity to override any veto made by Nevada’s Republican governor.

New Hampshire. John DiStaso, a columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader, offers a comprehensive look at the contest for control of the upper chamber. He says, “At this point, Democrats appear to be in a strong position to maintain their 14-10 majority in the state Senate. They are generally better-funded than the Republicans and, like two years ago, their campaigns are being effectively coordinated by their state party apparatus.”

New York. New York is another big state with a closely watched legislative contest. Republicans currently hold a one seat majority in the state senate, and control of the chamber could have a significant impact on Congressional redistricting after the next census. Much of the attention is focused on competitive districts in the western part of the state and on Long Island. A new series of polls from the Siena Research Institute has Democratic candidates ahead in a number of key districts.

Ohio. In Ohio, Democrats are targeting 21 districts in an effort to win control of the state house. Republicans currently hold a seven seat majority (53/46) in the chamber. Democratic fundraising is thus far outstripping expectations, and we have made an effort to ensure that every candidate in each of the targeted district has a campaign staffer to help manage the race. We do face a challenge in protecting a number of incumbents in Republican-leaning districts who need to win before we can cut into GOP margins.

Oklahoma. The Oklahoma state senate is one of two chambers in the country that is currently tied. This year, there are 11 Senate seats up for grabs in the general election, but most expect the final chamber margin to be decided in three key races, one in the Tulsa area, one in the Stillwater area and one in the Lawton area. The Oklahoman offers this preview of the contest.

Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, all 203 state house seats are up for reelection. Democrats currently hold the lower chamber by one vote, 102/101, and the GOP is fighting for control. Two years ago, 24 incumbents were defeated, and this year, many first term legislators are facing tough reelection campaigns. Retirements have opened 20 seats — 13 of which are held by the GOP and 7 of which are held by Democrats. The Associated Press offers this preview.

Tennessee. In Tennessee, Republicans believe that Democrats will turn out big numbers of supporters in urban and surrounding areas. The GOP is focused entirely on the legislative races and is working to target Democrats running in rural districts. The state senate is currently tied, 16/16.

Texas. As Election Day approaches, Texas is emerging as a vitally important legislative contest. Democrats need only pick up five seats to regain control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2002, when Republicans gained 13 seats with the helped of Tom Delay. According to the public finance reports, Democrats had more campaign cash on hand in 14 of the top 20 House races, and experts believe that there is a significant enthusiasm gap between the two parties. The Houston Chronicle previews the election.

Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Democrats control the state senate while Republicans control the state assembly. Both parties believe that control of the upper chamber will not change, but the lower chamber is up for grabs. The GOP now holds a three seat majority — 51-47, and all eyes are focused on a number of competitive races in open seats that will determine the final outcome. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers this preview.

Tomorrow, I will be working to get reports of activity in the states, and I’ll be liveblogging results throughout the day at DLCC.org. I’ll be at work well into the night to keep you posted as results become clear.

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