- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2010

Republicans were already on track to make major gains this fall in the nation’s statehouses — which will play a big role in the post-census redistricting — but an updated forecast by a leading analyst now finds the GOP wave could be even bigger than anticipated.

The new forecast shows Democrats risk losing their majority in 25 state House or Senate chambers, up from 21 in July. Meanwhile, Republicans risk losing — or “have in play” — only one state chamber, down from four in July, forecaster Louis Jacobson wrote this week in Governing magazine. Of the 28 chambers that could change hands this fall, the remaining two appear to be tossups.

“This is a terrible combination for the Democrats,” Mr. Jacobson said. “There’s a startlingly unprecedented ‘lean’ toward one party, the GOP.” He also called the situation “by far the most lopsided split” he’s seen in the past five election cycles.

Mr. Jacobson estimates Democrats face losing a net four to 12 state Senate chambers and six to 15 House chambers.

Such a GOP wave would come at a critical time — taking away the Democrats‘ control in most chambers across the country and returning Republicans to power as state legislatures begin to play a key role in the redistricting processes that start in 2011. With some states set to gain House seats and others to lose them, where the new district lines are drawn could give one party a significant and lasting advantage.

The three GOP majorities now considered safe since Mr. Jacobson’s July assessment are the Montana Senate and the Tennessee House and Senate.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, but we have a good slate of candidates with a good governor at the top of the ticket,” Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Devaney says the party has roughly 15 candidates who will challenge entrenched Democrats.

The four additional Democrat-controlled chambers now considered at risk are the Illinois House, the Oregon Senate and the Washington House and Senate.

Trent Lutz, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party, said Thursday that Republicans face a “challenging, uphill battle” to take control of the Senate.

Mr. Lutz said Oregon Republicans will have to win four of six key races with little money in the bank and a strategy that he said so far has left the GOP on the defensive.

“They have a lot of ground to cover,” he said. “And we’ve been more on the offense in the Senate.”

Mr. Jacobsen thinks the major factor behind the statehouse trend is the same one driving congressional and gubernatorial races — Republicans have capitalized on voters’ anti-incumbent sentiment, unhappy with the sluggish economy and unimpressed with key parts of the Obama agenda, including health care reform and the economic-stimulus package.

He also noted that Democrats control so many state legislative chambers that it gives Republicans “ample opportunities for takeovers.”

History also appears against Democrats in November, because some of the biggest landslides for state legislatures have come during midterm elections.

The party controlling the White House has been a net loser of state legislative seats in every election over the past 110 years, except in 1934 and 2002, the first midterm elections of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush, respectively, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 1994, Democrats lost 20 chambers to Republicans and failed to win a single one, Mr. Jacobson noted. The magazine is scheduled to make a final forecast before Nov. 2, but doesn’t anticipate the Democrats‘ situation to improve.

Mr. Jacobson, who conducted roughly 100 interviews with national political strategists and state capital sources, said he thinks 15 more Democrat-controlled state chambers could come into play within the next several weeks.

“While there are some very recent indications that the national climate may have improved slightly for Democrats, this is unlikely to make a great difference … because there’s almost no place where the Democrats are on offense,” he said.



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