GOP holds line in state legislatures, dealing blow to Democrats
Democratic hopes of claiming control of state legislative chambers across the nation crashed into an immovable Republican wall in key states on Tuesday, a substantial blow to the party’s chances of wielding more influence in the decennial redistricting process ahead.
Instead of big Democratic gains, early election results appear to show Republicans picked up enough seats to win control of at least two legislative chambers, the New Hampshire state Senate and the Alaska state House, where Republicans appear to be in a position to break a bipartisan coalition that ran the House for the last two years.
Early election results showed Republicans leading in the battle for the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Thousands of ballots are left to be counted, and Democrats still have a chance in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Democrats held out hope of recapturing the Minnesota state Senate, where each party appeared to be on track to lose two incumbents to rival challengers.
“We’ve had several key red to blue flips and are incredibly proud of all the history-making candidates we elected tonight. We always knew this would be tough — we’re running on extremely gerrymandered maps,” said Christina Polizzi, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). “But this election is far from over and we don’t yet have the full picture of our results. There are millions of votes yet to be counted and we are going to make sure we count every one.”
Outside analysts watching the races said the results represented a significant disappointment for Democrats, as Republicans beat even the most optimistic expectations.
“Nobody but the most ardent Republicans would have said the first flips would have been in the direction of the GOP,” said Tim Storey, the executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The results will have a substantial impact on the redistricting process that begins next year, after the Census Bureau finalizes its decennial count and Congress reapportions House seats based on new population figures. Democrats had hoped to flip legislative chambers in states like Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where Republican-led legislatures drew maps that heavily favored their side in the last redistricting cycle.
After making steady gains throughout the decade, Democrats did not appear to make new inroads on Tuesday in any state that would give them more say in the redistricting process.
“It’s an epic underperformance by Democrats. For all the money spent, Democrats aren’t going to be able to draw a single new congressional district as a result of this election that they hadn’t been able to draw before,” said Michael Behm, a lobbyist who keeps tabs on state legislative elections. “The Republicans have been able to protect every majority that they needed to that draws congressional lines.”
The relative stability in legislative chambers is anomalous. In recent years, 10 or more legislative chambers have flipped in any given election cycle. The last time fewer than five legislative chambers flipped, Storey said, was in 1946.
Republicans appeared to be on track to expand their majority in the Iowa state House and to defend the state Senate. Republicans defended their narrow majority in the Florida state Senate, where only one incumbent — a Democrat in Miami-Dade County — appeared in jeopardy Wednesday morning.
Democrats picked up a single seat in the North Carolina state Senate, while Republicans netted four seats in the state House; both Senate President Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) declared victory Tuesday night. In Pennsylvania, Republicans led in races that would net them seats in both the House and Senate.
The results appeared to show Republicans gaining two trifectas — in which one party controls the governorship and both chambers of the legislature. Montana voters elected Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) as their next governor, along with a GOP-controlled legislature. And if the results hold in New Hampshire’s state House, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) will have a GOP legislature to work with next year.
Democrats cautioned that early vote counts are not final and that their candidates still have a chance to make up margins by which they are trailing. Hundreds of the approximately 5,800 seats on the ballot on Tuesday still have not been called by The Associated Press or other news outlets.
Both Democrats and Republicans and their allied outside groups spent unprecedented sums of money on what are ordinarily low-budget legislative contests this year.
“It was unprecedented. It was off the charts,” Storey said of the big spending. “The big winners were the TV stations and the direct mail people.”
The DLCC raised and spent more than $50 million, while the Republican State Leadership Conference, its GOP equivalent, spent even more. Groups backed by major donors spent heavily in places like Texas and North Carolina for Democratic candidates, investments that did not pay off.
“State Democrats spent hundreds of millions of dollars to flip state chambers,” said David Abrams, the RSLC’s deputy executive director. “So farther don’t have a damn thing to show for it.”