Legislatures: Republican Wins in Alabama and New Hampshire

Republicans shouldn't be enthused about winning legislative special elections in Alabama and New Hampshire yesterday. They should be enthused about how they won. In ...
by | February 17, 2010

Republicans shouldn't be enthused about winning legislative special elections in Alabama and New Hampshire yesterday. They should be enthused about how they won.

In New Hampshire, Republicans retained Senate District 16. They did so in impressive fashion. Despite Democrat Jeff Goley's strong fundraising, Republican David Boutin won every jurisdiction in the district in his 17-point win.

Democrats don't need to win District 16 to win the state. They hold a 14-10 majority without it. George W. Bush won the district handily in 2004, even as John Kerry won New Hampshire (Barack Obama won it narrowly in 2008). Still, 17 points is a thumping -- one that's consistent with the Democratic majorities in both houses of the New Hampshire legislature being in danger this fall.

The Republican win in Alabama was, if anything, even more impressive. Republican K.L. Brown scored a 14-point win in a seat that previously had been held by a Democrat.

Republican legislative gains in Alabama are, in a way, more surprising than the party's gains elsewhere. Democrats won so many seats in traditionally Republican territory in 2006 and 2008 that even in a neutral year or slightly Dem-friendly year, they were guaranteed to lose a lot of those seats.

But, that dynamic can't explain Republican gains in Alabama (this isn't their first special election win). For Democrats, 2006 was a great year in lots of places, but Alabama wasn't one of those places. Republican Gov. Bob Riley won reelection easily and Republicans won most of the statewide offices in the state.

Democrats had more notable victories in Alabama in 2008, winning a couple of hotly contested congressional races. However, Democrat membership in the legislature wasn't inflated that year because there weren't legislative elections. Strangely, Alabama only holds regular legislative elections every four years.

In other words, Republican gains in Alabama reflect something bigger than the natural ebb in a recent Democratic tide. What they may reflect, in part, is a concerted effort by Riley to persuade his state's conservative voters to elect the more conservative party.

Two years ago, Riley was pledging to raise the money to help Republicans win a majority in the Alabama legislature in 2010. That surprised me at the time because Riley is term-limited this year. With three years left in his term, he set as a major goal changing the political composition of the state legislature after lawmakers had any capacity to determine the fate of his legislative initiatives.

Unusual or not, Riley's timing looks good. Despite strong Democratic majorities for now, both houses of Alabama's legislature (but especially the House) are in play. Republicans' chances will be even better if they can win defections from some Democratic lawmakers, although the party's cold treatment of Parker Griffith might not help in that regard.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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