Legislatures – The First Look


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As we have said on many occasions during the past year and a half, the 2010 elections for Governor and state legislature are taking on an air of extreme importance.  In fact, their results will likely lay the groundwork for the Congressional elections throughout the coming decade.  Why?  Because the new Census data is being calculated this year, which leads to redistricting.  With majority legislative power in certain key states, either party could draw Congressional districts that will give their side a decided advantage toward winning U.S. House seats through 2020.

With this backdrop, Governing Politics online magazine has publicly released the first comprehensive handicapping of the key state legislative battles and we use their information to turn an eye toward Congressional redistricting.

Of the thirteen most important states studied, Democrats today have the upper hand for capturing or holding targeted houses in six places: Colorado (both houses; no apportionment change), Iowa House (loses one seat), Michigan House (loses one seat), Minnesota (both houses; loses one seat), Nevada (both houses; gains one seat), and North Carolina (both houses; no apportionment change).  Republicans either have a decided edge or pull even in seven states: Alabama Senate (no apportionment change), Indiana House (no apportionment change), New York Senate (loses one seat), Ohio House (loses two seats), Pennsylvania House (loses one seat), Tennessee (both houses; no apportionment change), and Wisconsin (both houses; no apportionment change).

The core reason Republicans did well in the 2001 redistricting was because they fully controlled the legislative and gubernatorial apparatus in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.  Looking at the current political trends, except for the Michigan House (Republicans would need to gain a dozen net seats to regain control), all of those key positions could again wind up on their side of the political ledger.  Republican prospects to expand a tenuous Texas House majority are bright at this writing, and they must hold the Governor’s chair in Florida, which at this point is too close to call as this appears to be a neck-and-neck race.  A Pennsylvania sweep for Republicans appears possible because Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) has a clear lead in the Governor’s race and the party needs only to pick up four House seats to claim control.  While the Ohio Governor’s (Democrat Ted Strickland seeking re-election) and House races (Democratic margin of control is also four seats) are pure toss-ups.  In addition, Republicans are looking strong in the Michigan Governor’s race and the state Senate.  These states partially comprise the most critical battleground regions from a Congressional redistricting perspective.

Other aforementioned states are also included in the “hot zone” of redistricting politics.  Iowa is always a focal point when it comes to redrawing their political districts.  Ceding the map-drawing power to a legislative committee staff, the legislature then votes up or down, with no amendments, on the final map.  Iowa is the only state that attempts to always draw the most competitive map, many times to the detriment of its own incumbents.  Faced with losing one seat, all bets are off as to how the new map will affect the current 3 – 2 Democratic delegation.

The Minnesota state political landscape will be shaped by the toss-up Governor’s race as Democrats appear poised to easily hold their margins in both houses of the legislature.  Losing one seat to apportionment, the GOP will likely take the loss unless they can hold the state’s top post.  If they do, then a court-drawn map becomes a possibility.

Nevada, gaining a seat for the third time in the last four decades, will also be faced with a stalemate situation if the Republicans hold the Governorship.  The primary defeat of embattled Governor Jim Gibbons (R) gives them a better chance to do so.  Former federal judge Brian Sandoval faces Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s son, Rory, in the general election.  Democrats appear to be in good shape to hold both the state House and Senate.  The most likely scenario for a four-seat map is a 2 – 2 split, particularly if the GOP can defeat freshman Representative Dina Titus (D-03-NV) to recapture the state’s one marginal Congressional district. 

Turning to other places, we could easily see maintaining a decidedly Democratic map in Tennessee should the party wrest even one House seat away from Republicans.  The converse situation could appear in North Carolina if a big GOP electoral sweep catapults their party to power.  Who controls the New York Senate—now in Democratic control 32 – 30, but a body that has been in legislative turmoil throughout the current legislative session—will likely make the other party suffer for the reduction of Congressmen in that state, even though the GOP has only two of the 29 Empire State Congressional districts.  The Republicans need a big year in New York to stave off what could be a political power outage that could last the entire decade and beyond.  The state races in Alabama, Colorado, and Wisconsin are all in flux at this writing and difficult to forecast.

The 2010 legislative and gubernatorial battles are largely “hidden elections.”  They won’t get much publicity, but their results will sketch the American political portrait for most of the next ten years and their importance cannot be overstated.

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