Only a Few 2014 Legislative Races Are Competitive
The battle for control of state legislatures has gotten a little more competitive in recent months, with Democrats still playing defense.
The battle for control of the nation’s state legislatures has gotten a little bit more competitive since mid-summer -- but not a whole lot.
When Governing last rated the nation’s legislative chambers in June, there were fewer competitive chambers than at any time since at least 2002. In the updated ratings, it appears six chambers in five states are more competitive.
Three chambers are shifting in the GOP’s direction: Kentucky’s House, from lean Democratic to tossup; Minnesota’s House, from lean Democratic to tossup; and Nevada’s Assembly, from safe Democratic to likely Democratic.
Three chambers are also shifting in the Democrats’ direction -- Michigan’s House from likely Republican to lean Republican, and both chambers in North Carolina from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.
In general, though, these shifts do not dramatically change this election cycle’s overall landscape, which tilts against the Democrats. The Democrats still have more chambers at risk this cycle -- and limited options for flipping chambers held by the GOP.
All told, the GOP is poised to pick up two or three chambers this fall, though outcomes could range from a Democratic gain of two to a Republican gain of seven or eight.
The current partisan breakdown in state legislatures is 58 Republican-held chambers and 40 Democratic-held chambers. That's a slightly smaller margin than the 61 chambers the GOP controlled in 2012. Historically, though, it's a high GOP total. As recently as the run-up to the 2010 election, the Democrats held a 62 to 36 advantage in chambers.
Today, the GOP controls both chambers in 27 states, while the Democrats control both chambers in 19; three states have one chamber controlled by each party. (Nebraska's unicameral legislature is nonpartisan.)
Less than a month away from Election Day, there are 18 chambers vulnerable to a change in control, up by one from mid-summer. That's well below the number of chambers in play at this point in the cycle than in 2012, when there were 24 in play. It's also fewer than the 27 in play at this point in the most recent midterm election, 2010.
The Democrats do have more at risk this cycle. Not only is 2014 the sixth year of a Democratic presidential term, but they also have more chambers at risk than the Republicans do. Of the 18 at-risk chambers this year, 11 are currently held by the Democrats, compared to seven held by the GOP.
That said, the relatively small number of vulnerable chambers limits the Democrats’ downside risk this year. And the modest number of adjustments made in this update contrast with the 2006 and 2010 cycles, when national partisan waves developed. Those years, Governing was shifting large numbers of chambers right up through Election Day. The Democrats’ challenge stems less from a Republican headwind and more from the map they have faced since the beginning of this cycle.
Of the 11 chambers at risk for the Democrats, seven are rated either tossup or lean Republican. The Democratic-held chamber that leans Republican is the New Hampshire House, thanks to a GOP-friendly redistricting map. The seven Democratic-held tossup chambers are: the Colorado Senate, the Iowa Senate, the Nevada Senate, the New Mexico House, the West Virginia House and two new additions, the Kentucky House and the Minnesota House. The remaining at-risk chambers are currently rated lean Democratic: the Colorado House, the Maine Senate, and the Oregon Senate.
Meanwhile, among GOP-held chambers, there's currently only one that's a tossup, the New York Senate. Another six Republican-held chambers are leaning Republican: the Arkansas House, the Iowa House, the New Hampshire Senate, the Washington state Senate, the Wisconsin Senate, and one newly classified lean Republican chamber, the Michigan House.
The ratings shift for three chambers that aren’t highly competitive. Nevada’s Assembly shifted from safe Democratic to likely Democratic, and both chambers in North Carolina switched from safe Republican to likely Republican. In each of these chambers, the minority party has a chance of gaining ground on the majority, but not enough to wrest control.
The situation in North Carolina is the most interesting. There’s been a backlash against the North Carolina GOP’s conservative agenda, and while it probably won’t be enough to flip the chambers this year, even Republicans acknowledge it could cut the party’s margins in one or both chambers.
As always, assessment are based on interviews with dozens of state and national political sources. Chambers are rated on the following scale: safe Republican, likely Republican, lean Republican, tossup, lean Democratic, likely Democratic and safe Democratic. The categories labeled "lean" and "tossup" are considered competitive or in play. Chambers in either of the "likely" categories are not expected to change party control on Election Day, but it's possible that the minority party could net a few seats and nibble into the majority's lead. The current partisan breakdown in each chamber comes from the National Conference of State Legislatures; seats that are vacant or held by third-party politicians are not included in the totals.
|Rating||Held by D||Held by R||Total|
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 23-11 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 66-37 R
The Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010 won't be reversed any time soon, despite the Oct. 20 indictment of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, the architect of the takeover. The biggest competition for incumbent Alabama lawmakers came in the primaries, rather than the general election.
Senate: Projected Likely R; Current 13-7 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 26-14 R
The bipartisan coalition that led the Senate from 2006 to 2012 is ancient history, thanks to a Republican-friendly redistricting in 2012. That leaves the GOP in good shape to retain solid control through at least the next redistricting after the 2020 Census. While the gubernatorial race was shaken up with the creation of a fusion ticket between an Independent and a Democrat, there isn’t much reason to think it will change the calculus for legislative races.
Senate: Projected Likely R; Current 17-13 R
House: Projected Likely R; Current 36-24 R
Arizona Republicans have been in control of the legislature for years, despite some intra-caucus friction between hard-liners and pragmatists. Even though Democrats can be competitive in Arizona – including in this year’s gubernatorial race – it’s not clear that the party can count on coattails, especially in a midterm election. Smaller gains are possible, but at the end of the day, the GOP should be able to maintain control in both chambers.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 22-13 R
House: Projected Lean R; Current 51-48 R
After a long period of Democratic control, the GOP took the majority in both Arkansas chambers in 2012. Its hold is solid in the Senate, but the House is more iffy, with Democrats needing to net just two seats in order to flip the chamber back. The battle will be waged district by district, though the GOP is still slightly favored, since Republicans are now slightly favored in both the open-seat gubernatorial race and a hard-fought U.S. Senate contest – a lean that could translate into other races.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 28-11 D
Assembly: Projected Safe D; Current 55-25 D
California Democrats are in no danger of losing their majorities in both chambers, particularly as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown looks strong for another term in 2014. The only danger would come from losing their two-thirds supermajority, which allows the party in power to exercise their will on budgetary and other matters without minority input. The odds are slightly on the side of Democrats keeping their two-thirds majorities in both chambers, though in the Senate, it could take until a special election in December.
Senate: Projected Tossup; Current 18-17 D
House: Projected Lean D; Current 37-28 D
In purple Colorado, the Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governorship. But their grip on the Senate hangs by a thread after two Democratic lawmakers were ousted in a recall election for taking pro-gun-control stances. A half-dozen seats are competitive, including the two recall seats. Republicans feel good about their chances, but too much remains up in the air to move the Senate away from tossup. The House also stays at Lean Democratic.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 21-14 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 98-53 D
Even though Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy is facing a tough re-election campaign, Connecticut Democrats are in good shape to maintain their legislative majorities. They aren't expected to reach the two-thirds supermajority, however, that would allow the party to override gubernatorial vetoes, a power that would become especially important if the GOP ousts Malloy this fall.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 13-8 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 24-14 D
The Democrats will have no trouble holding on to their majorities in this blue state.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 26-14 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 74-45 R
Despite a highly competitive gubernatorial race this fall and Florida's history as a purple state in presidential races, the GOP is in solid control of both chambers of the legislature.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 38-18 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 119-60 R
The GOP won a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate in 2012, and just missed doing the same in the House. Achieving dual supermajorities could allow them to pass constitutional amendments without Democratic votes. The GOP stands ready to pick up another couple seats in the House this fall, making a second supermajority possible. While the Democrats are finding stronger-than-expected prospects in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races in the state, the GOP should have a solid hold on both chambers.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 24-1 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 44-7 D
Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie was ousted in a primary, and the winner of the three-way general election for governor is anybody’s guess. But in the legislature, Hawaii's Democratic majorities are ridiculously large. Even if the GOP manages to pick up seats, they'll still be far, far in the hole.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 28-7 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 57-13 R
Both chambers in Idaho are solidly in Republican control. While the GOP has some internal divisions, the Democrats shouldn't be much of a factor for the foreseeable future.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 40-19 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 71-47 D
A weak Democratic gubernatorial candidate -- unpopular incumbent Pat Quinn, locked in a close race with deep-pocketed GOP businessman Bruce Rauner – could cost Democrats their supermajority in the House, but the party should remain in power in both chambers, thanks to the strongly advantageous, Democratic-drawn redistricting map. Of the 19 seats up in the Senate this year, only two are considered competitive, so the best plausible outcome the Republicans is perhaps 20 out of 59 seats.
Meanwhile, in the House, only 47 of 118 seats are even contested, and perhaps 10 are competitive.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 37-13 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 69-31 R
Indiana's GOP majorities are super-safe; in fact, the Republicans in the Senate could add another seat or two. Democrats are hoping that bigger turnout in the 2016 presidential election year could help them claw back a few House seats, though even then, gains in the Senate will be an uphill climb. Some Democrats hope to they might be able to win back enough seats to bust the GOP quorum-proof majority, but even if they win some of their targeted seats, they run the risk of losing some others and ending up with a wash.
Senate: Projected Tossup; Current 26-24 D
House: Projected Lean R; Current 53-47 R
Iowa is one of a vanishing number of states with split legislative control. The Democratic edge in the Senate is narrow -- the GOP needs to flip just one seat to achieve a tie, and two to gain control. The GOP has a slightly larger margin in the House. The 2014 election features a relatively easy re-election bid by GOP Gov. Terry Branstad and a highly competitive open-seat U.S. Senate contest; better-than-expected results by either Branstad or Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst could have an impact on legislative races.
Senate: No Races; Current 32-8 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 92-33 R
GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's strongly conservative agenda has irked Democrats and moderate Republicans, making his re-election contest against Democrat Paul Davis unusually competitive. The GOP edge in the House -- the only chamber that will be contested this year -- is too massive for Democrats to pose much of a threat to Republican control. But the traditional Democratic-moderate Republican coalition may well gain at the margins, with several moderate Republicans prevailing in primary elections and Democrats possibly picking up a few seats. This might be enough to thwart proposed constitutional amendments that require a two-thirds majority.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 23-14 R
House: Projected Tossup; Current 54-46 D (Shift from Lean D)
As most Southern legislative chambers have slipped away from the Democrats, the Kentucky House has somehow managed to remain the exception. The GOP would need a five-seat gain to take control. An influx of money will help the GOP cause, as would the prospect of party switchers joining the fold if the GOP ends up on Election Night with a one- or two-seat deficit. A flip is no slam-dunk, but in a midterm election where the GOP has a good environment, caution means shifting this from Lean Democratic to tossup. Meanwhile, the GOP-held Senate is in no danger of going Democratic.
Senate: 26-13 R
House: 59-44 R
Neither chamber in Louisiana is contested this year.
Senate: Projected Lean D; Current 19-15 D
House: Projected Likely D; Current 89-58 D
The Maine Legislature has flipped back and forth in recent years, with the GOP taking over in 2010 and the Democrats seizing back control in 2012 (when Obama was at the top of the ballot). The Democrats' sizable majority in the state House looks durable for now, but the much narrower Democratic margin in the Senate makes a GOP takeover a possibility. Any impact from the hotly contested gubernatorial race is tough to predict, since it’s a three-way contest.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 36-11 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 98-43 D
Races for state legislature have taken a back seat to the open-seat gubernatorial contest so far, and Republicans are doing better than expected in the gubernatorial contest. Still, Democratic margins are large in both chambers, and no one expects GOP gains significant enough to eliminate Democratic supermajorities.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 36-4 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 131-29 D
While the gubernatorial race is proving to be much tougher than Democratic nominee Martha Coakley might have expected just a few months ago, the Democrats have massive margins in Massachusetts. Whoever wins the governorship, it won’t make a difference in the state House and Senate.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 26-12 R
House: Projected Lean R; Current 59-51 R (shift from Likely R)
The GOP hold in the Senate is secure, but the House is looking somewhat competitive. The Democrats would need to gain five seats to take the majority in the House. That’s looking slightly more plausible than a few months ago -- they have a few strong candidates in open races and their vulnerable incumbents seem to be hanging on. Still, the GOP has some good prospects of their own, so they maintain the advantage. The House race shifts from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
Senate: No races; Current 39-28 D
House: Projected Tossup; Current 73-61 D (shift from Lean D)
The GOP would need a net gain of seven seats to take control in the House. Several vulnerable Democratic-Farmer-Labor seats are in GOP-leaning districts, and a GOP net pickup of seven seats is conceivable. Control of the chamber could hinge on narrow margins in a few of the 134 districts. Meanwhile, the solidly Democratic Senate is not up this year.
Senate: 32-20 R
House: 65-57 RS
Neither chamber in Mississippi is contested this year.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 24-9 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 108-52 R
Once a relatively competitive state, Missouri has taken a turn to the right. The large GOP margins in both chambers are utterly solid -- and important for the GOP's continuing skirmishes with moderate Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The Republican majority is so lopsided that Republicans have been able to override Nixon's vetoes.
Senate: Projected Likely R; Current 29-21 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 61-38 R
The Democrats may hold the Montana governorship, but the GOP maintains a sizable enthusiasm gap over Democrats in the state, and as a result, their grip on the legislature is solid. Thanks to the state's conservative bent and Democrats' increasing difficulty winning in rural areas, control of the House appears safe for the GOP and is only slightly less solid in the Senate. But in a midterm election year where a Democratic U.S. Senate seat is in all but flipped -- and amid concerns about President Obama's proposed rules on carbon emissions (an unpopular policy in energy-producing states) -- even minor Democratic gains are implausible.
Nebraska's unicameral legislature is officially nonpartisan, Governing doesn't handicap it.
Senate: Projected Tossup; Current 11-10 D
Assembly: Projected Likely D; Current 27-15 D (Shift from Safe D)
The Democratic edge in the Assembly is one seat short of a supermajority and seems likely to hold, but the prospect of an easy re-election for GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval – and a lead in early balloting for the GOP -- could pull some seats the GOP’s way. As a result, we’re moving the Assembly from Safe Democratic to Likely Democratic; if the GOP surge continues, we might push it further before Election Day. The far more narrowly divided Senate is perennially under attack from the minority GOP. Republican prospects in the Senate have increased since our last handicapping. Three seats will be in play; the GOP has plausible contenders and a general election slate for statewide offices that's more of a draw for Republican voters. However, the districts, all in Clark County (Las Vegas), lean modestly Democratic. This is the GOP’s strongest takeover chance in recent years, but for now, but being cautious keeps the rating at tossup.
Senate: Projected Lean R; Current 13-11 R
House: Projected Lean R; Current 220-179 D
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is favored to win re-election, but the Democrats may not be so lucky in the legislature. They currently control the state's massive 400-seat state House, but their reign could be short, since the Republicans benefit from a redistricting map favorable to their party. In a midterm election cycle that's more favorable to the GOP, it's entirely plausible for Republicans to net the 20 seats needed to flip the majority; after all, the chamber is known for experiencing wild swings. The much smaller state Senate is currently held by the Republicans, and the GOP has an ever-so-slight edge in keeping control.
Senate: 24-16 D
Assembly: 48-32 D
Neither chamber in New Jersey is contested this year.
Senate: No Race; Current 25-17 D
House: Projected Tossup; Current 37-33 D
The state Senate isn't up this year, but control of the New Mexico House --which has been in the hands of Democrats since 1953 -- is up for grabs this year, with only a three-seat gain needed to flip the chamber. It doesn't hurt Republicans that it's a midterm election and that GOP Gov. Susana Martinez is favored to win a second term. Martinez is joined on the ticket by other Hispanic Republicans – and women -- making the ticket more diverse than in past years. It's a tossup, but it’s clear that this is a major opportunity for the Republicans.
Senate: Projected Tossup; Current 29-26 R (8 Independent or Vacant)
Assembly: Projected Safe D; Current 100-40 D
New York's Senate is as fluid as its House is rock-solid. A coalition of Republicans and maverick Democrats currently run the Senate, and Republicans have taken comfort in some recent polls. However, there are too many moving parts with choices about party affiliation to call the Senate anything but a tossup.
Senate: Projected Likely R; Current 33-17 R (Shift from Safe R)
House: Projected Likely R; Current 77-43 R (Shift from Safe R)
North Carolina has been one of the most contentious state government battlegrounds over the past two years, thanks to the aggressively conservative agenda pursued by the House and Senate GOP majorities. This appears to have sparked some backlash – the GOP U.S. Senate candidate, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, is struggling in his bid to oust Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan for that very reason. In addition, the Democratic-aligned outside groups are better organized and better funded than they were in 2010 and 2012, when GOP outside groups dominated.
So it’s now looking plausible for Democrats to peel back a few seats in one or both chambers, especially in districts anchored by urban counties like Wake, Buncombe and New Hanover. While it’s not a slam dunk Republicans will lose their supermajorities, it’s now within the realm of possibility. And if so, that would set up Democrats, if they can get their organizational act together, to make a serious challenge for control of one chamber or other in 2016, despite districts drawn to favor Republicans.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 33-14 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 71-23 R
In solidly Republican North Dakota, both chambers are held by Republican supermajorities; they are safe.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 23-10 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 60-39 R
Ohio may swing in presidential races, but the GOP has a lock on both chambers of the legislature. With the legislative picture bleak, the Democrats suffered a further blow with the implosion of gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald amid personal questions. It might even be enough to add marginally to the GOP lead in one chamber or the other.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 36-12 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 72-29 R
The days when conservative Democrats ruled the Oklahoma Legislature are gone. The realignment toward Republicans in Oklahoma, hastened by Obama's unpopularity, ensures that the GOP will maintain supermajorities in both chambers.
Senate: Projected Lean D; Current 16-14 D
House: Projected Likely D; Current 34-26 D
Oregon has been such a solidly Democratic state in recent election cycles that it's not clear that the GOP will be able to take advantage of some breaks, notably the public's disaffection with the spectacular failure of the state health insurance marketplace under Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. Weighing down GOP hopes is a shortage of vulnerable seats and mediocre candidate recruitment. The narrowly divided Senate, currently controlled by the Democrats, is vulnerable to a tie; a flip looks more unlikely for Republicans than it did a few months ago, and an extension of the Democratic edge looks more plausible than it did previously. It stays at Lean Democratic. In the House, meanwhile, the Democrats have a somewhat more comfortable margin.
Senate: Projected Likely R; Current 27-23 R
House: Projected Likely R; Current 111-92 R
Republican Tom Corbett is the most vulnerable incumbent governor in the country, but the GOP's edge in the legislature seems reasonably solid. In the Senate, the Democrats would only need to flip three seats to take control of a chamber the GOP has long held, but the lineup of seats being contested is favorable to the Republicans. Meanwhile, in the House, the margin is wider, giving Republicans some room for error. If Corbett's re-election bid begins to be a down-ballot drag for the GOP, one or both of these chambers could shift to vulnerable. But there's no sign of that yet.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 32-5 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 69-6 D
Rhode Island has one of the most lopsided legislatures in the nation. Regardless of what happens in the competitive open-seat gubernatorial race, the Democrats have nothing to worry about.
Senate: No races; Current 28-18 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 78-46 R
With a Republican-friendly redistricting map, there are few real competitive legislative elections on tap in South Carolina this cycle. While there's some skirmishing between establishment and Tea Party Republicans, both chambers will end up safely in the GOP camp. (The Senate is not being contested this year.)
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 28-7 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 53-17 R
In solidly Republican South Dakota, the only relevant battles are between the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP. The Democrats aren't much of a factor here.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 26-7 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 71-27 R
The GOP has a lock on the Tennessee Legislature.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 19-12 R
House: <Projected Safe R; Current 95-55 R
Recent election cycles have demonstrated that Texas is growing ever-more conservative, so the GOP's current edge in the legislature seems rock solid. The House is poised to continue under the leadership of centrist conservative Joe Straus, while the Senate will almost certainly be run by Dan Patrick, the GOP nominee for the state's powerful position of lieutenant governor. Patrick is conservative even by Texas standards, and he’s expected to relax the senate's longstanding two-thirds supermajority, probably to three-fifths, which would effectively gut any remaining Democratic leverage in the chamber.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 24-5 R
House: Projected Safe R; Current 61-14 R
The Utah Legislature is tilted massively toward the GOP. There's no chance of broad Democratic gains.
Senate: Projected Safe D; Current 21-7 D
House: Projected Safe D; Current 98-44 D
In solidly blue Vermont, the Democrats have strong majorities, so any marginal gains by the GOP should not make a difference. There are a handful of Progressive Party and Independent legislators, but their numbers are not big enough to make a practical difference in control.
Senate: 20-18 R
House: 67-32 R
There's no reason to rate the Legislature because it has no regular elections this year. However, a vacancy in one safe Democratic Senate district means that a special election will be on the ballot in November. Either way, the GOP will retain the control it won with the departure of a Democratic lawmaker from the previously tied chamber – a watershed development that effectively blocked key agenda items being pursued by newly elected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Senate: Projected Lean R; Current 26-23 R
House: Projected Likely D; Current 55-43 D
It’s looking like a status-quo election in Washington state. The Democrats look likely to hold on to their House majority, and the Republicans are modestly favored to keep their coalition in the state Senate, which they currently exercise with 24 Republicans and two Democrats. One of those Democrats is retiring, but the GOP appears to pick up an open seat of a retiring minority Democrat incumbent, which along with the the remaining GOP-caucusing Democrat, will be enough to continue their coalition. In the House, the GOP could notch a couple of seats -- too few to flip control, but possibly enough to hand the majority some tough votes on fiscal issues next year.
Senate: Projected Likely D; Current 24-10 D
House: Projected Tossup; Current 53-47 D
On the House side, the GOP could undo a Democratic run of control that began all the way back in 1928. Some think the GOP has an edge, but it's a tossup for now. In the Senate, the Democrats should be able to hold on for at least one more cycle.
Senate: Projected Lean R; Current 17-15 R
Assembly: Projected Safe R; Current 60-39 R
The Wisconsin Assembly has a huge Republican advantage; the GOP-led Senate is much tighter. Four Republican senators are leaving, two in competitive districts, giving Democrats a chance to return Wisconsin to divided government despite a pro-Republican redistricting map. But for that to happen, Democrat Mary Burke would need to provide some coattails downballot; she’s locked in a tight race with incumbent Gov. Scott Walker.
Senate: Projected Safe R; Current 26-4 R
Assembly: Projected Safe R; Current 52-8 R
The Wyoming Legislature is lopsidedly Republican, and Democratic chances of even marginal gains likely evaporated with the Obama administration's issuance of proposed new regulations on carbon emissions.