The Democratic Party will hit a new nadir in state legislative seats after suffering more losses in November’s elections, highlighting the devastation up and down the party across the nation.
Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats after last week’s elections, while Democrats will control 3,129 seats in the nation’s 98 partisan legislative chambers. Republicans picked up a net gain of 46 seats in Tuesday’s elections, while Democrats lost 46 seats, according to the latest vote counts from The Associated Press.
Independents and members of minor parties hold 71 seats, including the entire Nebraska Senate, which is nonpartisan. Nearly two weeks after Election Day, about a dozen seats remain too close to call.
“Republicans have been working for this moment for years, to have a federal government with Republican majorities and now at the state level,” said David Avella, who heads GOPAC, a group that grooms young legislative candidates. “We have to deliver on breaking down barriers to job creation, we have to deliver on putting more money in people’s pockets through tax cuts and through higher wages.”
The results cement a dubious legacy of Republican gains in state legislatures during President Obama’s tenure. Republicans gained more than 700 seats in the 2010 midterm elections and nearly 300 in the 2014 midterms as Obama’s approval ratings suffered. Democrats clawed back more than 100 seats in 2012, when Obama won reelection.
In total, Republicans control nearly 1,000 more legislative seats than they did when Obama took office. The Republican share of state legislative seats has grown from just under 44 percent in 2009 to 56 percent after Tuesday’s election.
After the latest losses, Democrats will hold just 42 percent of legislative seats in the nation.
Beginning next year, Republicans will control 67 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers, after winning new majorities in the Kentucky House, the Iowa Senate and the Minnesota Senate. Democrats picked up control of both the state Assembly and Senate in Nevada, and the New Mexico state House.
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Since Obama took office, Republicans have captured control of 27 state legislative chambers Democrats held after the 2008 elections. The GOP now controls the most legislative seats it has held since the founding of the party.
Simply controlling more seats in a legislative chamber does not necessarily guarantee a majority. A coalition of Democrats, independents and a handful of Republicans will give Democrats control of the Alaska state House. Though they are in the minority in both states, Republican-led coalitions control the Washington and New York Senates.
Democrats say they have nowhere to go but up. In 2006, the last time a Republican president was in office during a midterm election, Democrats regained control of ten legislative chambers.
“We’re investing the time to fully evaluate the successes and challenges of this cycle for application to 2017 and 2018, while also getting an early jump on recruiting, campaign staff hiring and training, and other important infrastructure items,” said Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
But the party has to make serious gains in many deep red states before it competes for majorities across the country once again. Democrats hold fewer than ten seats in 15 state legislative chambers across the country; Republicans hold fewer than ten seats in just six chambers — including the Hawaii Senate, where all 25 members are Democrats.
Below the surface, Democrats have reason to celebrate in states where Hispanic voters play a significant role. The party picked up 11 legislative seats in Nevada, seven in New Mexico and seven in Texas.
Republicans, meanwhile, picked up more than ten seats in deeply red territory in Arkansas, Kentucky and North Dakota. The only states Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE carried where Republicans made significant legislative inroads were in Connecticut, where the state Senate is now evenly divided between the two parties, and in Minnesota, where Republicans picked up nine seats.
When the new year dawns, Republicans will control both chambers of the state legislature and governorships in 24 states. Democrats will hold total control in only five states — Hawaii, California, Oregon, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
State legislatures matter not only because of the laws they can enact, but because of their influence over the redistricting process every ten years. Massive Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms gave Republicans the opportunity to draw congressional district maps in many states before the 2012 elections, effectively locking in a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
“In state after state, we were able to increase our majorities, which puts us in stronger positions as 2020 rolls around and maps get redrawn,” Avella said.