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October 11, 2010

Top 11 State Legislative Battlegrounds: Parties Vie for Control

The winners of the 2010 legislative elections will hold the pen when redistricting begins early next year.

DENVER- Will this year’s state legislative election be a landslide for Republicans? Voters will decide more than 80 percent of the country's 7,382 state legislative seats on Nov. 2. Democrats are playing electoral defense in almost every state as Republicans are poised to make gains across the country. The only question is, will the gains be modest or historic?

“If Democrats are going to continue to dominate in state legislatures, they are going to have to buck one of the most consistent trends in American politics,” said Tim Storey, an elections expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Legislative and congressional elections that are held in the middle of a presidential term are almost always bad news for the party in the White House.”

The November election takes on an added importance because it will have a direct impact on who controls Congress for the next decade. State legislators elected this fall will receive detailed data from the Census Bureau and in most states will begin the task of drawing new districts for the U.S. House, as well as their own state legislative lines. A handful of states use commissions instead. If 2010 is an historic, landslide election for Republicans – with wins by the GOP in nearly all of the key governors races and in almost all of the close legislative chambers – Republicans could unilaterally control the drawing of approximately 165 U.S. House seats compared to only about 30 for Democrats. The rest of the seats would be in states with redistricting commissions or with divided partisan control.

Currently, in 27 states, Democrats control both chambers; Republicans in 14 states. In eight states, legislative control is split. Broken down even further, Democrats have control in 60 of the 99 state chambers; Republicans hold the majority in 36. Two legislative bodies are tied: the Alaska Senate and the Montana House. Nebraska has a unicameral Legislature that is chosen in nonpartisan elections. Of the 88 chambers holding elections this year, at least 31 are considered in play for both parties. In each two-year election cycle, 13 legislative chambers change party control on average.

Top 11 Battlegrounds of the 2010 Election

It is likely that at least a dozen chambers will switch parties on Nov. 2. According to NCSL, the top 11 battleground states are as follows, listed in alphabetical order:

Alabama – Democrats have controlled this Southern legislature since 1872, but Republicans feel they have their best shot at winning a majority of seats in more than a century in both the House and Senate.

Alaska – The Alaska Senate is the nation’s smallest state legislative body. Currently, there are 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators. Both parties hope to pick up one seat to earn a clear majority.

Colorado – Once a solid red state, Democrats have held majorities in both chambers since winning them in 2004.  However, Republicans are convinced that both the House and Senate are once again within reach.

Indiana – Perhaps the most competitive legislative chamber in the country over the past century is the Indiana House. Republicans need only two seats to tie and three seats to reclaim the majority. The House has changed party control 19 times since 1900.

Montana – Going into 2010, the Montana House is tied, 50 – 50. Republicans see 2010 as a golden opportunity to win back this very competitive chamber.

New Hampshire – It is a toss-up for control in both chambers of the Granite State legislature. If Republicans gain three seats, they will control the Senate. They need to win back dozens of seats to control the 400-member New Hampshire House, which has been controlled by Democrats for only four of the past 84 years.

New York – Democrats took a slim, two- seat majority in the Senate in 2008 after being in the minority for 44 years. Republicans are hungry for a comeback and the implications for who controls redistricting in the Empire State are enormous.

North Carolina – Another Southern state where Democrats may be in trouble. They have controlled the Senate since reconstruction, but Republicans need to switch five seats for a historic takeover. Normally a tall order, but not in a year where Republicans are expected to fare well.

Ohio – Republicans need to gain only four seats to control the Ohio House. If the GOP wins the toss-up governor's race and holds the Senate, it will be in the driver’s seat in this key redistricting state.

Pennsylvania – Redistricting control is once again on the line in this perennial battleground state. Democrats currently hold the House by only six seats.

Wisconsin – Republicans need to switch only two Senate seats and four Assembly seats to retake control of both chambers.

Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia hold state legislative races in odd-numbered years. In Kansas, New Mexico and South Carolina, only House seats, not Senate seats, are up for election. There will also be 20 House seats decided in American Samoa and 15 Senate seats each in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

NCSL has launched its StateVote 2010 website. This is a great resource for reporters to get detailed analysis on legislative elections and ballot measures. On election night, this website will have the latest results from across the nation. For more information on the 2010 state legislative elections or to schedule an interview with one of NCSL's political analysts, contact NCSL’s press room.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.