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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dem Control of State Legislatures at Risk

In terms of historical trends, there is not much of an upside for Dems, who currently control 27 state legislatures, compared to the GOP’s control of 14 (8 split), in Tim Storey’s “Legislature Lowdown” at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

…Since 1900, there have been 27 elections held in the presidential mid-term year. In all but two of those mid-term elections, the party in the White House lost seats in state legislatures. The only exceptions were in 1934 and 2002. In 1934 during one of the lowest points of the great depression, Democrats campaigned on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and gained over 1100 legislative seats nationwide in FDR’s first mid-term election. In 2002, Republicans rode a groundswell of support for President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11th attacks to pick up 177 seats. However, in the other 25 mid-term elections, the party of the president lost an average 495 legislative seats. Mid-term losses have been mitigated in recent decades since modern redistricting took hold, but the trend is still very consistent. This trend is not good news for Democratic legislative candidates running for the first time since 2000 with a Democrat in the White House.

Storey identifies 27 “battleground” legislative chambers, where a pick-up of just 3 seats would lead to a switch of party in the majority. Dems have 14 to defend, compared to 11 for the GOP, with AK Senate and MT House tied. The big prizes, in terms of the more populous states, are the NY Senate (32 D – 29 R – 1 vacant), the OH House (53 D – 46 R), and the PA House (104 D – 98 R – 1 vacant). Close behind would be the TX House (73D – 77 R),
As Storey points out, in 44 states redistricting by state legislatures is a critical issue of concern with respect to national politics (6 states that have special commission-like structures for that purpose). Further,

The 2011 redistricting could be the first time since the era of modern redistricting began in the 1980s, following the 1960s landmark Supreme Court decisions on redistricting and the evolution of the process in the 1970s, that Republicans have the redistricting edge in the states, and it could be substantial. If November 2nd is a big Republican wave election, it could give the GOP sole redistricting authority in the drawing of more than 160 U.S. House districts–nearly six times more than their Democratic counterparts. Under this scenario, the bulk of the seats redrawn in the 2011 redistricting, about 200, will be in states with divided partisan control. The stakes for this November’s legislative elections could not be higher. It’s shaping up to be a year of historic volatility in state legislative elections.

In addition to redistricting concerns, adds Storey, “Legislatures enact over 20,000 new laws every year” and spend “about $1.5 trillion” in taxpayer money annually.”
Looking at the big picture, it’s possible Dems could lose some state legislatures, but still have control in a plurality of states. What may be more important in terms of congressional seats and the electoral college is what happens in the aforementioned larger states, especially TX, which is expected to gain as many as 3 or 4 U.S. House of Reps. seats. Perhaps Democratic contributors would do well to send a little love to the state Democratic Party organizations in NY, PA, OH and TX.

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