While the federal government may be divided many state governments are not. The GOP has unified control (gubernatorial and legislative) of 23 state governments and effectively controls 59 of 98 state legislatures nationwide. Democrats have unified control of a mere 13 state governments (WA and NY state senates led by coalition of GOP and Democrats). Further, in many cases both Republicans and Democrats have super-majorities in numerous chambers.
Most electoral analysis this cycle has focused on the battle for control of the Senate and the unsettled nature of the gubernatorial landscape., But Republicans and Democrats have signaled they plan to target several state legislatures this cycle. These legislatures tended to be divided into three categories, 1) almost evenly split, 2) lie in moderate or conservative states and 3) do not feature heavily gerrymandered legislative districts.
Take for example Iowa, a quintessential swing state. The GOP is assured to hold onto the Governorship and hope down ballot coattails protect their fragile majority in the state House (53R-47D) and propel them to a majority in the Senate 26D-24R). They only need to take one seat to control the chamber as the Lieutenant Governor is a Republican and would cast tie breaking voters in the chamber. Further, since Iowa has a non-partisan redistricting commission many state senate seats could swing one way or the other.
Republicans also hope to recapture the New Hampshire state House (lost it in 2012). The chamber is the largest in the nation and tends to swing easily depending on the national mood. Democrats contend the competitive US Senate race and Governor Hassan’s cruise to reelection will help them hold the chamber come November.
Republicans have other opportunities. In Colorado the GOP hopes to take a mere one seat away from Democrats to control the state’s upper chamber (18D-17R). The state house (37D-28R) is a little more of a stretch but if Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Udall go down it is not impossible Republicans could find a way to small legislative majorities.
Republicans plan to heavily target a trio of competitive Southern legislatures as they hope the partisan realignment of the region continues down to the state legislative level. In Kentucky, Republicans are targeting a bastion of Democratic support, the state house (53D-47R). Mitch McConnell’s competitive race could boost GOP turnout while Grimes failure to rally the base could depress Democratic support. Republicans have long eyed West Virginia’s legislature and the state’s turn to the GOP at the Congressional level has made the state legislature an enticing target. While the state senate (24D-10R) may be out of reach for the GOP this cycle the party hopes to make gains in the chamber in preparation for 2016. The state house is very much in reach with Democrats holding a narrow majority (53D-47R). Republicans hope Shelly Moore Capito’s candidacy for Senate can boost turnout and impact down ballot races.
Democrats have their own targets this cycle. They want to take the New Hampshire Senate (13R-11D), the Iowa House (53R-47D) and most importantly, take a pair of state senate coalitions in WA and NY state. In both NY and WA the state senates are led by a coalition of minority Republicans and a few “turncoat” Democrats. The Republican-Democratic coalition in WA state (26R/D-23D) is safe as long as Republicans in Obama districts can hold on but the NY state coalition (34R/D-27D) is far more in flux.
Democrats would also like to turn the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin state senates blue. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett’s all but certain defeat means many Republican state senators will have to outperform him significantly despite their gerrymandered districts. Wisconsin is more of a stretch as Republicans are going all in to protect their legislative majority and Governor Scott Walker.
A few more opportunities may open up before election day but as it stands now both parties are targeting several legislative chambers. After the dust settles in November however, it is far more likely more Governor’s will have switched than state legislatures reflecting the polarized nature of our partisan electorate.