- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Republican midterm wave swept through state capitals across the nation Tuesday, with historic gains in state legislative races that will give the GOP a major advantage in influencing congressional races over the next 10 years through redistricting.

Republicans have won control of at least 19 additional state chambers now controlled by Democrats. That number is expected to increase - and to surpass the party’s 1994 total of 20 pickups - when final votes are tallied in six undecided races. The swing could eclipse the Democratic gains in the post-Watergate midterm elections of 1974, when 21 state chambers changed hands.

Republicans won control of 55 state legislative bodies and Democrats garnered control of 40, with one split. Although states use different processes to oversee redistricting, one analysis gives the GOP unchallenged control to determine the boundaries of 190 of the country’s 435 congressional districts.

“Election Day proved to be an even bigger ‘wave’ election than anyone anticipated,” said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Voters went to the polls and swept Democrats from office.”

Republican officials said the party also has gained a rich class of recruits who could one day run for statewide or national office.

Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said the state legislative elections - in which Republicans are expected to pick up a net 500 seats nationwide - provide Republicans with a “really strong farm team that is now making positive changes for their community and that will run for high office in the future.”

Among the more startling results: Republicans captured the Minnesota state Senate for the first time ever, won control of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time since 1870, and seized control of both houses of the Alabama Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Maine and Wisconsin, Republicans scored a trifecta, winning the governorships and both houses of the state legislatures in Augusta and Madison.

“We were confident we could get close in the House, … then the numbers just started rolling in,” Christie-Lee McNally, executive director of Maine Republican Party, said Wednesday.

Political analyst Louis Jacobson, who tracks statehouse races, said he had predicted sizable GOP gains, but even he was surprised by the Maine House and Minnesota Senate results.

Democrats lost control of both chambers in six states - Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Mrs. McNally said the gains in Maine followed a successful Republican-backed effort this summer to repeal tax increases enacted in the previous legislative session, a campaign that helped energize party voters.

“Sixteen House members who voted for that lost Tuesday,” she said. “We made it very clear to voters: The person you voted into the Legislature, especially in the House, might be a nice guy to hang around with, but he doesn’t vote in your interest when he goes to Augusta.”

Republicans did not lose a single chamber and picked up lower houses in states where the party already controlled the Senate in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

Mr. Jacobson, a staff writer for PolitiFact and a Governing magazine contributor, said the GOP made its most powerful statement in Wisconsin because of the timing after the census count.

“Wisconsin, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, were big wins for the GOP last night because of their impact on redistricting,” he said.

The redrawing of congressional district maps by governors - and in some states, bipartisan commissions - will be based on soon-to-be released census numbers and will begin in early February.

Mr. Jacobson anticipates court challenges to some new congressional district maps, and the Justice Department can review state proposals to prevent discrimination against minority voters, but he said the redrawn lines likely will be ready for the first elections of the 2012 cycle.

Mr. Gillespie said statehouse elections will result in 15 to 25 U.S. House seats likely remaining Republican or switching from Democratic control after redistricting.

“The bottom line is that Republicans will have a much greater impact on the redistricting process as a result of yesterday’s elections,” he said Wednesday.

The RNC’s Mr. Heye said the state-level victories will help protect newly elected officeholders and improve the playing field for future Republican candidates.

“This makes sure we are involved in redistricting because a new House member immediately redistricted out of his district wouldn’t be much good for anybody,” he said.

Battered Democrats said the state-level races often presented insurmountable odds for their candidates because the president and the Democrat-led Congress were deeply unpopular in many parts of the country.

“In a political environment worse even than that of 1994, our candidates for state legislatures fought tirelessly against the GOP wave that swept the nation this fall,” said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Although the picture was largely grim for Democrats, Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial victory in California gives the party total government control of the nation’s most populous state.

Republicans will control a majority of Southern legislative seats for the first time since Reconstruction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans control 18 of the 28 Southern legislative chambers, compared with 14 before the election and none 20 years ago. In the Midwest, Democrats will control 38 percent of the region’s legislative seats - their lowest number since 1956.

The six undecided chambers are the New York Senate, the Washington Senate, the Colorado House and Senate, and the Oregon House and Senate.

Mr. Jacobson said deciding their outcomes could take days because recounts might involve multiple races.

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