Democratic State Legislatures Ride Obama's Coattails

Both parties have chalked up wins at the state legislative level, but the Democrats could have a modest advantage.
by , | November 7, 2012

For full election coverage and analysis, go to Governing's 2012 Election Center.

Democrats got some good news downballot on Election Night: They may have rolled back GOP control in state legislative chambers -- at least modestly.

The GOP is poised to flip four chambers while the Democrats may be able to flip eight. Here is a breakdown of expected and possible shifts in partisan controls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). With each chamber, we've listed for your reference Governing's final pre-election rating to the right:

Shifted from Democratic to Republican

Arkansas Senate -- lean Republican

Arkansas House (likely) -- lean Republican

Wisconsin Senate -- lean Republican

Shifted from a Tie to Republican Control

Alaska Senate -- lean Republican

Shifted from Republican to Democratic

Colorado House -- lean Democratic

Maine Senate (likely) -- lean Republican

Maine House (likely) -- lean Democratic

Minnesota Senate (likely) -- tossup

Minnesota House (likely) -- tossup

New Hampshire House -- lean Republican

New York Senate (possible) -- tossup

Shifted from a Tie to Democratic

Oregon House -- lean Democratic

If these chambers do switch as noted, and if no other chambers flip control, then the Democrats will have gained a net four chambers, which was in line with our final forecast -- "a slight strengthening of the GOP's strong lead in chambers or a small rollback by the Democrats." Among the chambers that have flipped so far, the only surprises were the New Hampshire House and the Maine Senate, which we rated as competitive but leaning toward the GOP rather than the Democrats.

NCSL's Tim Storey said the number of partisan shifts is in line with a typical election year -- about a dozen flipping one way or another.

According to NCSL's The Thicket blog: "Democrats will almost certainly net more seats than the GOP, continuing a strong 'coattails' trend. Including this year, the party winning the White House has gained seats in legislatures in 21 of the past 29 presidential-cycle elections."

Among states that didn't switch, the Democrats gained the most seats in New Hampshire, where they have gained at least 80 legislative seats. The Democrats also made gains in the Iowa and Michigan Houses, but appear to have fallen short of winning majorities in those chambers.

Still to be decided is control of competitive chambers in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico. Switches in these states could drive up the number of flipped chambers.

"We may wind up with the lowest number of divided state legislatures in over 30 years," said NCSL. "In 1982, there were only four divided legislatures where one party held one chamber and the other party held the opposite chamber. As of now, only Kentucky and Virginia have divided legislatures. Iowa may wind up divided. The last time that there were fewer divided legislatures was in 1928, when there were two."

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