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The Democratic outlook in the state legislatures has continued to worsen as Election Day approaches. With this analysis -- Governing's third since July -- we have moved eight more chambers in the Republican direction. The modest silver lining for the Democrats, however, is that no chambers are newly in play.
After taking account of these changes, the overall landscape remains 25 Democratic chambers in play, compared to just one GOP-held chamber and two tied chambers. (Chambers that are rated tossups and lean Democratic/lean Republican are considered to be "in play.")
As we have noted all year, this is a terrible combination for the Democrats -- both an unusually large number of chambers in play (32 percent of all chambers up this cycle -- the highest percentage recorded in the five cycles this author has been handicapping the legislatures) plus a startlingly unprecedented lean toward one party, the GOP.
In none of the previous five cycles -- which included two national wave elections (2006 and 2008) and a heavily anti-incumbent cycle for governors (2002) -- was there ever this wide a difference in projected risk between the two parties. Instead, the typical ratio of vulnerable chambers between the parties has been close to even.
Putting it all together, we estimate that the Democrats are on the verge of losing a net of four to 12 Senate chambers and seven to 15 House chambers. At the higher end of those ranges, the control numbers for state legislative chambers would be fully reversed. Today, there are significantly more Democratic-controlled state Houses and Senates. But if the GOP makes strong enough gains, it could hand the Republicans sizable leads in both chambers -- just as the decennial redistricting process is set to begin.
In all, we're shifting eight chambers from their September ratings -- and for the second straight analysis, each shift is going in the Republicans' direction.
We've shifted the Alabama House and Senate from tossup to lean Republican, the Michigan House from lean Democratic to tossup, the New Hampshire House and Senate from tossup to lean Republican, the North Carolina House from lean Democratic to tossup, and the Wisconsin House and Senate from tossup to lean Republican.
While local factors have played a role in certain cases, we continue to believe the major reason for the continuing shift to the Republicans on the state legislative front has been the national GOP wave. Democratic-held legislative chambers are especially vulnerable to this year's GOP wave, because the Democrats have gained chambers for several cycles running, providing Republicans with ample opportunities for takeovers.
The Democratic peril is especially high this year because it's a midterm election, and some of the biggest landslides for the legislatures have come during midterm elections. In 1994, the Democrats lost 20 chambers to the Republicans and one to a tie, without gaining a single chamber. In the post-Watergate election of 1974, the Republicans lost 21 chambers to the Democrats and two to ties, while gaining only one from the Democrats.
The best the Democrats can say is that they seem to have stemmed the tide of new chambers coming into play. Several chambers that we thought might have shifted by now in the GOP's direction are keeping their old ratings. These include the Alaska Senate, the Colorado Senate, the Delaware House, the Indiana House, the Iowa House and Senate and the New Mexico House.
This assessment is based on interviews with nearly 100 sources in the state capitals as well as with national political strategists.