Politics

Democrats May Lose Control in 2010 State Elections

Democrats are poised to lose a slew of state legislative chambers and attorney general offices.
by | October 2010

It’s no surprise that the 2010 election cycle is looking ominous for Democrats. The party is in danger of losing the U.S. House and Senate, and is poised to fall below a majority of the governorships. It also is about to lose a slew of state legislative chambers and attorney general offices.

State Legislatures

The race to control the nation’s legislatures may be overshadowed during this year’s midterm elections by congressional and gubernatorial contests, but the battle is poised to be pivotal nonetheless. This fall’s legislative elections -- the last before the start of a once-every-decade redistricting process -- are unique for two reasons: More chambers are in play this year than in any cycle since at least 2002, and even more strikingly, the Democrats have vastly more at risk than the Republicans do.

“This is going to be an extremely challenging year for Democrats for a variety of reasons,” says Tim Storey, senior fellow of the National Conference of State Legislatures. “History is not on their side. Since 1900, the party in the White House loses seats in the legislature in every midterm except for 1934 and 2002.”

Today’s Democratic Party, however, was already set up for a fall. The Democrats control a majority of the governors’ offices and state senates and houses at a time when a severe national recession and state fiscal crises are pushing voters into an angry, anti-incumbent mood. Polls typically show Republicans and Republican-leaning voters more energized to vote than their Democratic counterparts, undercutting Democratic hopes in almost every state.

“I think the main issue will be jobs and the economy,” Storey says. “State budgets continue to be in very poor shape. It’s hard to build support when all you do is cut programs across the board and anger nearly every constituency.” Implementation of the new health-care law also will pose challenges for states, while hot-button issues such as immigration could produce extra volatility.

Vitals

Current Party Control:

State Houses: 32 Democratic, 16 Republican, one tied, one nonpartisan

State Senates: 28 Democratic, 20 Republican, one tied, one nonpartisan

Chambers up in 2010: 45 State Houses, 42 State Senates

Chambers in play*: 27 out of 87

*These are races that are either too close to call, or lean Democratic or Republican.

Attorneys General

So what about state attorney general races? It’s pretty much the same story. A 32-to-18 Democratic edge over the Republicans is distinctly at risk.

In all, 43 attorney general offices are popularly elected. And of those 43, no less than 30 are being contested this fall -- the Democrats hold 19 of the contested seats. Three of those 19 Democratic-held seats are already tilting to the GOP. In each case, the incumbent Democrat left to run for governor, leaving the seat open. The three states are: California, where the state district attorney may be too liberal for voters; and Georgia and Oklahoma, where Republicans in these solidly conservative states are poised to take over.

While the top issues dominating attorney general races often are specific to the state as opposed to national in scope -- such as enforcement of consumer protection laws or crackdowns on methamphetamines -- it’s possible that broader national issues will hold sway in what is shaping up to be a Republican-wave year.

These potentially big issues include an effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law -- an effort that already has won support from a good portion of Republican attorneys general nationally. Another could be immigration, especially whether states choose to follow Arizona’s lead in trying to stiffen enforcement powers over illegal immigrants.

Vitals

Current Party Control: 32 Democrats, 18 Republicans

Elected Seats: 43 (seven appointed)

Seats up in 2010: 30

Seats in play*: 11

*These are races that are either too close to call, or lean Democratic or Republican.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from Politics