October 28, 2004

THE UNDERTOW:

In many states, control of legislatures at stake: The GOP has reached almost perfect parity with Democrats. A five-seat swing could tip control in 28 chambers. (Sara B. Miller, 10/28/04, CS Monitor)

The GOP holds a slim edge at the moment: Of 7,382 seats, they control 60 more than Democrats. In this election, there are 28 chambers where a switch of a handful of seats - three state senate seats or five state house seats - would alter party control.

"Our two parties today are poles apart," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "If your state senate switches from 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans to 22 Republicans, the change is a lot bigger than those two seats."

While usually further off the radar, these local elections have caught the attention of the national parties: More energy is being spent on state legislative races in this cycle, says Mr. Storey. It is still not a huge operation, he says, but the parties are recognizing the impact that legislatures have on state policymaking. Moreover, state legislatures often act as a training ground for candidates who may some day run for higher offices.

"Republicans have made significant gains [at the state level]," says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota. "That is a trend the Democrats view with real concern." [...]

Republicans control both legislative chambers in 21 states, Democrats control both in 17 states. Power is divided in 11 states. Nebraska has a unicameral and officially nonpartisan legislature.

If the GOP continues the trend of gaining power in the state legislatures, some political scientists say, it could be a sign of a needed realignment within the Democratic Party, says Michael Kanner, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Mr. Schier agrees. Even in Minnesota, he says, Democrats have narrowed their message, moving further to the left on certain issues like abortion. "It is one of the reasons for their competitive disadvantage," he says. "If they want to win elections, they'll need a much broader tent."


Beneath the foamy surface of the not un-competitive presidential race move tides that bode ill for Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2004 11:10 PM
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