- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Democrats, already facing unfavorable political terrain in congressional races this midterm year, are facing an uphill fight on another front — the battle for the nation’s statehouses.

A new political forecast issued this week finds that Republicans are poised to gain even greater control of legislative chambers in the states, with significant political and policy fallout if the gains are large.

The outlook nationally is significantly more grim for Democrats as they struggle to keep or gain party control in at least 14 states. Republicans now hold the majority in 58 legislative chambers and have majority control of both chambers in 27 states, while Democrats are the majority in just 40 chambers and enjoy total control in 19 states. One veteran statehouse watcher believes the GOP number — which is already historically high for the party — could climb higher come November.

Democrats control 11 of the 17 chambers that could change hands this fall, forecaster Louis Jacobson wrote this week in Governing magazine. Five of six statehouse fights rated a toss-up are in Democratic hands. No chambers currently controlled by Republicans are considered to be leaning Democrat, and only one — the New York state Senate — is a toss-up.

The fact that 17 chambers are vulnerable to change in November is relatively tame in comparison to this point in the 2012 election cycle, when there were 24 in play. This cycle has fewer statehouse battles for control than at any other time since at least 2002, according to Mr. Jacobson.

The chambers in play come from states in virtually every region, including Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Kentucky, to name a few. Arkansas is the only southern state represented on the list of competitive races.

One-party control of state legislatures has become the norm, with the number of states with split party leadership between their two chambers falling in recent years. Only three states now have that distinction: Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire.

Iowa could lose this status if Republicans succeed in ousting the state Senate’s slim Democratic majority in November. New Hampshire, too, could become an all-Republican state if Democrats fail to retain their majority in the House. Kentucky will likely keep its split party leadership as the Senate will remain in the hands of Republicans, and the House leans Democratic.

Mr. Jacobson said one wave that has helped Republicans gain so much traction on the state level was the transition from conservative Democrats to Republicans controlling Southern statehouses.

“Democrats held on by a thread,” he said. “Now that [Southern states] are in the hands of Republicans, they’re safe[ly] Republican.”

Mr. Jacobson called this a “longterm trend that has reached fruition in the past couple of cycles,” as conservative Democrats step down, and Republicans win the open seats.

How could this play out for congressional and gubernatorial races? Mr. Jacobson said there won’t be that much of an impact, but the biggest overlap would be in Colorado and Arkansas where there’s “so many competitive races.”

“If a wave develops, then that could help the GOP,” he said. “Even a modest breeze could help the party in one way or another, depending on the direction of the breeze.”

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