By Morgan Cullen

Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia held scheduled legislative elections on Nov. 5, the fewest number of state-level contests of this decade. Louisiana and Mississippi are the only other states that conduct off-year state legislative elections but they elect lawmakers in both houses to four-year terms, so the next elections there will be in 2015.

Re-elected New Jersey Gov. Chris ChristieIn New Jersey, all 120 House and Senate seats were up for grabs along with the governor’s office but no big political surprises upset the balance of power in the Garden State. Democrats held on to their safe majorities in both chambers. Although Republican Governor Chris Christie’s popularity led him to a crushing victory over Democratic Senator Barbara Buono, his bipartisan appeal did little to help his fellow Republicans down ticket. After the last ballots were counted, Democrats continued to maintain a 24-16 majority in the Senate and lost only two seats in the State Assembly, still maintaining a comfortable 12-seat majority.  

In Virginia, only the 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up for election, and the results did nothing to upset the status quo. Republicans added two seats to their already comfortable majority and now maintain a 34-seat advantage in the chamber.

There were no seats up in the Senate of Virginia this year but the results of the commonwealth’s statewide offices could alter the current 20-20 tie in the chamber. The Senate is currently under Republican control since the state’s Republican lieutenant governor casts the tie- breaking vote. Democratic Senator Ralph Northam resoundingly defeated Republican E.W. Jackson to become Virginia’s new lieutenant governor.  However, Senator Northam will have to vacate his current Senate seat prior to assuming his new office this coming January.  In order to fill the seat, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe will have to hold a special election to fill the vacancy sometime next year.

Republican Senator Mark Obenshain and Democratic Senator Mark Herring also faced off in a hotly contested race for attorney general which turned out to be a nail biter throughout the evening. This race will also affect the party composition of the Virginia Senate. The race was a virtual tie as of Wednesday afternoon with Obenshain maintaining a 286-vote lead over Herring with a total 2.2 million votes cast.  Virginia allows candidates to request a recount if the margin of victory is less than 1 percent.  Whoever wins that race will also have to vacate his current Senate seat before taking office. With the senate tied at a 20-20 split this will offer both parties two opportunities to win a clear majority in the chamber.   

There were also 16 special elections in eight other states to fill vacated seats. The one that received the most attention was Washington’s 26th senate district where Democratic Senator Nathan Schlicher ran against three-term Representative Jan Angel (R). Senator Schlicher was appointed to the seat when Derek Kilmer, the previous incumbent, won election to Congress. Washington is one of only three states that conduct elections entirely by mail so the final results may not be official until Friday. Representative Angel is currently ahead but only by 750 votes, so the race is still too close to call. Whoever wins the contest will serve out the remainder of the term.  The Washington Senate is currently controlled by a majority coalition made up of 23 Republicans and two Democrats. This is one of the more competitive districts in the state, and this race was the most expensive in the state’s legislative history. It could decide who will control the chamber following the 2014 midterm elections.    

NCSL 50 state party composition data is available here.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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