Handicapping Races for Control of State Legislatures

Friday, October 19th, 2012 and is filed under Blog, Elections

Share with your friends

As we’ve noted earlier, there is a lot at stake this November outside of Washington.  Throughout Obama’s tenure, Republican-led state governments have been critical in fighting against his administrative power grabs and violations of the spirit of federalism.  That is why it’s so important that we control as many branches of state government as possible.

Earlier today, we posted a quick overview of the state of play for the governors’ races.  Here is a brief overview of the races for control of state legislative chambers.

In 2010, Republican enjoyed their most auspicious gains, not in Washington, but in state legislative races.  They won over 720 seats, flipping 20 legislative chambers.  At present, there are 98 state legislative chambers with partisan orientations (Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan chamber, although they are unofficially majority Republican); Republicans control 59, Democrats control 36, and 3 chambers are tied.  The breakdown is as follows: Senate- 28R/19D/2T House- 31R/17D/1T.

Despite the large gains of 2010, Republicans are not overexposed, and they have a chance to extend their gains and net some more chambers.  It’s an arduous task to handicap control of state legislatures because they hinge on the outcome of multiple races, but my best estimate shows 14 chambers in play; 9 D, 4R, and 1 tied in Oregon.  The slanted playing field provides us with an ample opportunity to pick up more seats.

Here are the GOP pickup opportunities:

Alaska Senate

Although the Alaska Senate is officially tied, with 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, the RINOs have ostensibly given control to the Democrats.  However, due to redistricting and population shifts to the more conservative areas, Republicans have a good chance to flip this chamber.

Arkansas House and Senate

Arkansas is the only southern state left where Democrats control the state legislature.  But the great realignment is finally catching up to them.  The entire state house and senate are up for reelection, and with just an 8-seat majority in the House and a 5-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats are on the cusp of being obliterated from the south.


The Kentucky state House is the only other southern chamber in Democrat hands.  They still hold a 59-41 majority, so it’s not a given that Republicans will pick up enough seats to flip the chamber.  However, Obama will be such a drag on the ticket that it will definitely be close.  Either way, they will certainly lose their majority by 2014.

Wisconsin Senate

Republicans swept both chambers of the legislature during the 2010 midterm elections.  However Democrats picked off a few senate seats during the recall elections and now hold a 1-seat majority in the Senate.  Due to favorable redistricting, Republicans should win back the chamber.

Washington Senate

Democrats have long controlled both chambers of the legislature, but it appears that they are finally wearing out their welcome in the state.  Republicans have a good chance of winning the governorship, and Obama appears to be underperforming in the state.  There are several open Democrat seats in the Senate, and Republicans need just 3 pickups to flip the chamber.

New Mexico House

Republicans came close to picking up the house in 2010, but came just two seats short.  Theoretically, there are more than enough opportunities to flip this chamber; however, Obama seems to be pretty solid at the top of the ticket, so this one might be a tough.

Nevada Senate

Democrats have a razor-thin 11-10 majority, and with a competitive presidential election, Senate race, and several house races, control of the state Senate is a pure toss-up.

Iowa Senate

Democrats control the state Senate by a 1-seat margin.  With Iowa being a battleground at the top of the ticket, Republicans have at least even odds of flipping the state senate.

Oregon Senate

Democrats have a mere 16-14 majority in the senate.  As such, there is always a chance to flip the chamber.  However, Democrats will have help from Obama on the top of the ticket and a disorganized Republican Party in the state.

Here are the chambers Republicans must defend:

New York Senate

Republicans control the Senate 32-30; however, with Obama commanding a strong lead at the top of the ticket, in conjunction with favorable redistricting, Democrats have at least a 50% chance of flipping this chamber.  With that said, this is the same GOP-controlled Senate that passed gay marriage, so it would not be a loss for us.

Oregon House

The Oregon house is currently tied at 30-30.  However, due to liberal Republicans, including a sex scandal with the GOP leader, Democrats have better than even odds to flip the chamber.

Minnesota House

In one of the biggest surprises of 2010, Republicans flipped both chambers of the legislature.  They appear to be safe to hold onto the Senate, but their 72-62 majority in the House is a bit shaky.

Colorado House

Republicans have a very tenuous 33-32 majority in the house.  Democrats are aggressively challenging freshmen Republicans and have a good shot at control of the chamber.  More than any other state, Colorado might depend on the outcome of the presidential election.

Maine House

Republicans staged a revolution in 2010.  They won both legislatures and the governorship.  The remarkable thing is that many of these freshmen are tea partiers, not northeastern liberals.  The Senate appears to be in good shape, but Democrats need just 4 seats to flip the House.  It is very important that we keep this chamber because many of these guys are worth fighting for.

Remember that a good bench of conservative state legislators will provide us with a farm team of future congressional candidates.  If you are living in any of the aforementioned states, don’t forget about the importance in helping your Republican legislators.