The two-year lull: States with congressional control

Jorge Quiroga / AP Photo

Despite the odds, Republicans have maintained their grip on office in a host of Republican-held states.

In the 2014 midterms, 24 states were considered swing states. Republicans took 30 governorships and nearly tripled their Senate majority and garnered an even bigger advantage in the House. In each instance, the Democratic presidential nominee defeated their Republican challenger in the state.

The nation’s two largest statehouses, California and New York, were viewed as the last major battlegrounds for the election of 2016, but neither the outcome of the 2016 presidential election nor the election of 2018 has altered the number of state governments controlled by Republicans, who had 43 of the 50 governorships and a 112-seat majority in the House in November 2016.

In all, Republican lawmakers are on track to control 59 of the state legislatures as of 1 November, when the two-year terms of state legislatures are up for election. Democrats control 31 state legislatures and have just ten more to lose in their quest to retake control of both chambers in the 2019 regular election.

Republican state lawmakers in the remaining 16 states have not yet convened for their winter term, but have been replaced by a new crop of GOP leaders who are expected to continue to lean heavily on the ideological orthodoxy established by the GOP in the state houses in the early 21st century.

The Democrats may get a slight reprieve in Maryland, where the party was able to elect a new governor early in 2018, but the party must first overcome a Republican tide in a bid to get a majority in the state House of Delegates.

In Missouri, the top party leaders in the state House have agreed to enter the 2018 election season as a single ticket to unseat the four Republican state senators. The move could split the vote of moderate Republicans, weakening their ability to provide Republican crossover votes for Democrats in Democratic primaries.

In fact, with Republicans in control of both chambers, at least four Democratic senators have opted not to run for reelection, citing in some cases a lack of direction from the party in the statehouse.

In Ohio, where the Republican controlled legislature and governor’s office merged in 2011, attempts to enact the party’s agenda have fallen flat. Republicans sought to restrict public sector unions and prevent teacher tenure, but overreach on the latter issue threatened their efforts to cut state spending.

Neither state Senate passed their version of Governor John Kasich’s landmark collective bargaining bill. Republicans then tried to implement charter schools in the state, but this school voucher-like initiative faced legal challenges and was not fully approved by the GOP-led state legislature.

A 2014 report from University of Maryland estimated that Democrats had a 17-percentage point advantage in voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections, though overall turnout was higher than previous years.

“Democrats enjoyed a more effective campaign,” the report said. “Between the 2010 and 2014 midterms, Democratic turnout increased almost two points, while Republican turnout declined by almost the same amount.”

A post-election analysis from the Brookings Institution said race and gender played an important role in partisan affiliation. They said 70 percent of registered Democratic voters were women compared to just 61 percent of registered Republican voters. And among those Democrats, only 40 percent were white women, while 51 percent of Republicans were white men.

In Colorado, races in the fall elections could determine whether Republican legislative majorities are retained or removed. Democrats control the state House of Representatives and in all likelihood, hold on to the Senate as well. Republicans hold on to the governor’s office, but Democrats in Colorado have a sizable voter registration advantage, often at the expense of voters in red districts.

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