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November 3, 2010

Republicans Exceed Expectations in 2010 State Legislative Elections

The 2010 election will shape the national political landscape for at least the next 10 years.

Tuesday night’s GOP power sweep exceeded expectations, giving the party its largest number of seats since the Great Depression.

Republicans now hold about 3,890, or 53 percent, of the total state legislative seats in America, the most seats in the GOP column since 1928. The GOP will now control at least 54 of the 99 state legislative chambers, its highest number since 1952. As a result, state legislatures will likely reflect a more conservative political agenda when they convene in 2011.
“2010 will go down as a defining political election that will shape the national political landscape for at least the next 10 years,” said Tim Storey, elections specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The GOP, in dramatic fashion, finds itself now in the best position for both congressional and state legislative line drawing than it has enjoyed in the modern era of redistricting.”

With their gains in state legislatures, Republicans now have a decided advantage in shaping congressional and state legislative districts when legislatures start the redistricting process next year. The GOP will have unilateral control of about 190 U.S. House districts. Storey says this is the best position for the GOP in redistricting since the landmark Supreme Court decision, Baker vs. Carr, in 1962, which established the “one-person, one-vote” rule that requires districts to be redrawn every 10 years.

The night marked a 20-year march by Republicans across the South. In 1990, the GOP held no legislative chambers and only 26 percent of legislative seats in the region. With Tuesday’s results, the GOP now controls 18 legislative chambers and 54 percent of the seats. The Midwest, traditionally a Democratic stronghold, now has just 38 percent Democrat members, the lowest percentage there since 1956.

Storey said Democrats were overwhelmed by an “enthusiasm gap.” Of the roughly 11,000 candidates running for the 6,115 legislative seats up this year, the GOP had 822 more Republicans running for office than in 2008. Democrats actually had 50 fewer candidates than two years ago.

Based on unofficial, preliminary returns, legislative chambers that have switched so far are:

  • Alabama House and Senate
  • Indiana House
  • Iowa House
  • Maine House and Senate
  • Michigan House
  • Minnesota House and Senate
  • Montana House
  • New Hampshire House and Senate
  • North Carolina House and Senate
  • Ohio House
  • Pennsylvania House
  • Wisconsin Assembly and Senate

Undecided chambers that could still switch are the Colorado Senate and House; the New York Senate; the Oregon House; and the Washington Senate.

Other key observations from this year’s election include:

  • Republicans gained at least 680 seats on Tuesday, the largest gain by either party since 1966, surpassing Democratic gains in the post-Watergate election of 1974.
  • The North Carolina Senate is now in Republican control for the first time since 1870.
  •  The Minnesota Senate, which held nonpartisan elections until 1974, is under Republican control for the first time.
  • The Alabama legislature is under Republican control for the first time since Reconstruction.

The leaders of America’s state legislatures will change dramatically as a result of Tuesday’s elections. Eleven sitting Democratic leaders lost their reelection bids on Tuesday, including one speaker, one lieutenant governor, two Senate President Pro Tems, six majority leaders and one Senate minority leader.

There will be significant turnover in House and Senate leadership when legislatures convene next year. Currently, 32 House Speakers are Democrats and 17 are Republican. Next year, this will change to 30 Republicans and 15 Democrats. Chambers in Colorado, Oregon and Washington remain undecided and Nebraska is nonpartisan. In terms of Senate presidents, in January 30 Senate chambers will be led by Republicans and 17 by Democrats. Currently, there are 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Chambers in New York, Oregon and Washington remain undecided.

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.