- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2010

Despite the best efforts of this administration to enshrine an all-powerful federal government of virtually unlimited reach (see Obamacare), our federal system still reserves significant authority and responsibilities to the several states. As James Madison noted, our Constitution is a federal, not a national, document. States continue to be laboratories for innovative approaches to problems such as health care, education, welfare and transportation.

There is one other power the states retain - the power to redraw congressional district boundaries at least every 10 years, after the most recent census. The next time this will occur will be after the 2010 elections. The political party that controls the key legislative chambers will gain the advantage to elect a majority of the House of Representatives for the next decade.

This census will confirm the continued migration of Americans from the North to the South and West. Current estimates are that at least 13 congressional seats will move across state boundaries. Most states gaining seats - Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and Nevada - lean Republican. Conversely, all states losing seats, other than Louisiana, are located in the Midwest and the Northeast.

Republicans have every reason to be optimistic about their chances to make major gains in the state legislatures. Here are a few reasons why:


First, Republican legislative caucuses have done a far better job of recruiting candidates than their Democratic counterparts. According to a GOPAC analysis of nearly two-dozen key chambers, Republicans are contesting roughly 10 percent more legislative districts than Democrats. North Carolina Republicans, for example, have filed candidates in all 50 state Senate districts. Michigan Republicans have candidates in every state House and state Senate district at issue this year.

This Republican advantage grows substantially when looking at challenger candidates to incumbents. According to the GOPAC survey, the GOP challenge rate to Democratic incumbents is roughly 73 percent, while the Democrats are filing candidates against fewer than half of Republican incumbents. The more candidates who file, the greater the opportunities to win seats. Republicans should benefit substantially from their stellar recruiting efforts.

Second, the targets of opportunity for chamber takeovers are far more on the Republican side. Republicans have realistic prospects of winning the Pennsylvania House, the Indiana House, the House and Senate in Wisconsin and Ohio, and perhaps the North Carolina House and Senate. Republicans even are competitive in Deep South states such as Alabama and Mississippi.

By contrast, Republicans are increasingly confident about holding the Texas House and Michigan Senate, both once thought to be marginal, and the legislatures in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Third, and most important, the issue mix is as favorable for Republican candidates at the state level as at any time in recent memory. According to voter surveys conducted by GOPAC, voters are overwhelmingly concerned about the economy, deficits, high taxes and bloated state budgets. Voters see these ills as directly responsible for the high levels of unemployment, which remains the public’s top concern. Republican candidates who present specific ideas to reduce taxes and spending at the state level to create a more business-friendly environment and attract private-sector jobs will be rewarded by voters this fall.

No matter what happens at the federal level, Democrats still will control the White House and probably the Senate. However, the election of small-government Republican governors and majorities of Republican state legislators in key states could very well be the “under the radar” story of the 2010 midterm elections. Governors such as Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Perry in Texas, Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota and Robert F. McDonnell in Virginia are demonstrating that pro-growth state economic strategies can begin to blunt the worst effects of this federal government’s disastrous economic policies.

Frank Donatelli is chairman of GOPAC, a center for training and electing new Republican leaders.