Clockwise from top left: NCSL's Ben Williams, Mandy Zoch and Tim Storey talk state elections at NCSL Base Camp 2020.
NCSL Base Camp 2020: ‘A Big Election Year in the States’
By Mark Wolf | Sept. 17, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine
Every time Tim Storey gives a presentation on legislative elections, he notes, in earnest, that, “it’s a big election year in the states.”
Well, this year, it’s a really, really, really big election year in the states, NCSL’s executive director told a session during NCSL Base Camp 2020.
“This year it all comes down to the legislative races (as opposed to governors, ballot issues and any special elections),” he said. “This is the big kahuna.”
With 80% of state legislative seats up in the 44 states that have legislative elections (four states conduct them in off-years, Alabama and Maryland elect all their lawmakers to four-year terms in the same cycle, the latest being 2018–and none of this will be on the final exam) and an outsized importance because of redistricting, this is a blockbuster state political season.
“Typically we have 12 chambers switch hands every legislative cycle but there has been less change over the last two cycles and I think that’s going to be true this time,” Storey said. “I’d be very surprised if 12 switched in this election, especially given how relatively close the top of the ballot remains.”
So on to his view of battlegrounds:
- Alaska House: Technically more Republicans (22) than Democrats (15), but the coalition of all the Democrats and a few Republicans could be broken and go back to full GOP control, especially with some of the outcomes in the primaries where some of the Republicans in the coalition lost.
- Arizona: Probably the most competitive state in terms of legislative races. The House is 29 Democrats and 31 Republicans, so the Democrats need two to tie. The last time the Democrats controlled the House was 1966.
- Colorado Senate: There are 19 Democrats and 16 Republicans. It would not be a shock if the Republicans could pull off winning two seats, though it appears the Democrats have the upper hand.
- Delaware Senate: You have to put this in with 12 Democrats and nine Republicans, even though with Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, the Democrats are probably going to do quite well.
- A number of Southern states are on this battleground map, some we haven’t seen for a long time, but it’s definitely an uphill climb for the Democrats. In the Florida Senate, Democrats would have to run the table, flip three seats.
- Iowa House: Democrats need three seats and would have to win all the toss-ups.
- Michigan House: There are a number of districts where Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer carried districts that President Donald Trump won. If you put all those together, Democrats just need to pick up four to tie. That hasn’t changed hands in several years.
- Minnesota Senate: In the only state where the chambers are split, Democrats need two seats.
- Minnesota House: Democrats have a pretty sizable advantage but if things change between now and Nov. 3, which they could because that’s an eternity in political election world, Storey said he could see the House in play for Republicans.
- New Hampshire Senate: Another Republican opportunity where they just need two seats to tie it. There are about four or five Republican opportunities and probably 10 Democratic opportunities.
- North Carolina: The Senate and the House are possibilities for Democrats
- Pennsylvania: House Democrats need nine seats in the second-largest (203 members) legislative chamber in the country.
- Texas: Democrats need nine seats but are optimistic that maybe this is their year.
- West Virginia and Wisconsin senates: Both longshots for Democrats.
“It’s interesting how many legislative chamber battlegrounds match up with battlegrounds for the White House: Arizona, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan,” Storey said. “It’s going to be harder for legislative candidates to find airtime because of the unbelievable amount of money presidential candidates are going to put into the airwaves in those states.”
Coattails will be a big factor, he said.
“A new study is out that shows people are more aligned with a party than they have been in years,” he said. “That makes it harder for legislative candidates to separate their policies and ideas from the national party brand.”
Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL Blog.
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