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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Set to Win Majorities in Key State Legislatures

At The Fix Amber Phillips has a post, “Why Democrats are set to retake state legislatures in 2016 (and it’s not just Trump),” which should offer some encouragement to state Democratic parties. Phillips conducts an interview with Louis Jacobson, PolitiFact’s senior correspondent, who sees significant gains for Democrats in state legislatures in November, particularly in rust-belt megastates MI, PA and OH.
Phillips and Jacobsen emphasize that it’s not just because Trump may well produce a backlash landslide favoring Democrats; “It’s because Democrats have lost so many state legislatures in recent years they may have nowhere to go but up,” as Phillips explains. Also, presidential elections turn out pro-Democratic constituencies which can cut into the GOP’s disproportionate gains in the 2010 and 2014 mid terms.
Here’s a map showing which party currently controls both houses of the state legislature in the 50 states (GOP in red, including unicameral NB legislature; Dems in blue; split control in grey):
state leg map.jpg
Jacobsen sees Democrats picking up majorities in “at least a half-dozen” state legislative chambers, but also emphasizes,

Getting to parity is going to take a couple of cycles. And it could go faster for them if Republicans win the White House. But we’re talking changes on the margin here. And some of the chambers that changed Republican in recent years are not going to change back.

Jacobsen also sees potential picks ups in western states like AZ and NV, where “the possibility of a Trump candidacy can energize Latino voters.” Jacobsen and Phillips may be understating the potential turnovers favoring Democrats. A strong Latino turnout in the west could also turn NM and CO blue in the map above. NY is also a good bet if Latino and African Americans turn out in impressive numbers. And if the Democratic presidential nominee improves on President Obama’s support from women by as little as 3 or 4 percent, the map will change dramatically.
Phillips and Jacobsen are understandably cautious about Democratic prospects. One major concern would be if those Republican donors who are not giving support to Trump decide to invest more in GOP candidates as far down-ballot as the state legislatures.
But Dems have reason to be optimistic, especially if the trend favoring straight ticket-voting in presidential elections continues. As elections analyst David Byler explains at Real Clear Politics,

Democratic Party leaders will almost certainly put increased money and manpower into these elections in 2016, but funding, advertising and campaigning on the local level can only do so much. The national political atmosphere will play an outsized role in determining the outcome of state legislative contests. Specifically, the outcome of the presidential race will likely shape the composition of state legislatures across the country.
In order to show this, we analyzed state-level data from every presidential election from 1956 to today. The data shows a clear, potentially problematic pattern — that the presidential race has become increasingly important in determining the results of state legislative elections.

And if Trump doubles down on alienating Latinos and women, while the Democratic nominee presents a credible and more appealing alternative in the debates, the map will look considerably different when the new state legislators are sworn in across the U.S.

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