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Odd-Year Election Goes Well for Democrats, but GOP Still Runs More Chambers

In Tuesday’s elections, Democrats either held steady or won an advantage; Republicans can celebrate a new trifecta in Louisiana, where the governorship shifted to red.

By Wendy Underhill, Ben Williams and Taylor Huhn  |  November 8, 2023

The votes are in: Tuesday’s elections in New Jersey, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia (and a special election for a legislative seat in New Hampshire) helped Democrats either hold steady or win an advantage. Republicans can celebrate a new trifecta in Louisiana, where the governorship shifted to red.

In Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia, all legislative seats were up as per longstanding tradition of using the odd-numbered years for state elections. In Kentucky, all statewide office holders were on the ballot, but not legislators.

While neither party made significant pickups in the number of legislative seats held, Democrats’ gains were more meaningful, flipping the Virginia House.

Virginia provided the only significant legislative change of the year. Democrats went into the election in control of the Senate, 22-18, and still control it, despite appearing to have lost a seat. In the House, Republicans were in control going into the election; Democrats will take over in January, having taken control 51-47, with two races still undecided. The House flip is unsurprising; it changed hands in 2019 and 2021 as well. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, elected in 2021, serves until 2025, meaning control of state government continues to be split.

It was no surprise that Republicans again control the Mississippi Legislature and governor’s mansion, a trifecta they have held since 2012; Democrats did not field candidates in enough districts to win majorities in the Legislature even if all their candidates won. In the end, there was no change in the Senate, and House Republicans netted one seat. The governor’s race went to incumbent Republican Tate Reeves; preelection talk of a surprise upset by his Democratic opponent, Brandon Presley, turned out to be just that—preelection talk.

In New Jersey, Democrats retained firm control of the Legislature, though the size of their majorities remains unclear. In the Senate, their advantage stands at 25-15; in the Assembly, it’s 47-27, with six seats undecided. If all current leads hold, Democrats’ House majority will grow by five seats. With incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy not up for election this year, the Garden State trifecta continues for at least another two years.

Kentucky legislators were not up for election yesterday, but the incumbent governor, Democrat Andy Beshear, was. One of the biggest preelection questions was whether Beshear could hold off his Republican challenger, Attorney General David Cameron, given that Kentucky went for President Trump in 2020 by 62%. The answer: yes. Notably, all other statewide races in Kentucky went to Republicans.

While Louisiana didn’t hold elections yesterday, it’s still part of the elections 2023 story. The governor’s race was decided in the Oct. 14 primary, with term-limited Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards being replaced by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. The size of Republican majorities will be determined during the Nov. 18 election for any races that didn’t have a majority winner in the October primary.

A Look at the Leaders

All of the current top legislative leaders who ran for reelection Tuesday won. However, a lack of upsets in individual races does not mean there won’t be shakeups in the leadership of several chambers.

The quietest state was New Jersey, where both Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) and Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) won their elections and are expected to retain their leadership positions. In Mississippi, the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (R), easily won reelection to a second term. But, on the House side, Speaker Philip Gunn (R) opted not to run for reelection, and the speaker’s gavel will be up for grabs for the first time since 2012. Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R), viewed as a likely candidate to replace Gunn as speaker, was reelected. Louisiana will see two new presiding officers, as the current leaders of both chambers are termed out and did not run in this fall’s election.

The most significant leadership change from this election will be in Virginia, where Democrats flipped the House after one term of Republican control. Current Speaker Todd Gilbert (R) won his own race, but it will likely be current Minority Leader Don Scott (D) who will assume the speakership now that his party controls the chamber. The Senate, where the Democrats maintained control, will also see a leadership change as Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) is retiring.

Partisan Control

How do results add up? Before the election, Republicans controlled 58 chambers to the Democrats’ 40. The balance is now 57-41. (The total number of chambers is 98 because Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature is not elected on a partisan basis.)

Republicans picked up a single trifecta by winning the Louisiana governor’s race. Republicans now fully control 23 states and Democrats control 17; nine states have divided control.

Special elections for legislative seats aren’t often dealmakers, but it’s worth watching New Hampshire’s House. On Tuesday, Democrat Paige Beauchemin, won an open seat. That puts the count at 198 Republicans, 197 Democrats, two independents and three vacancies. Those vacancies will be filled by special elections in January and will determine which party has the gavel for the remainder of 2024—unless there are more vacancies by then.

In the end, this election resembles last year’s. While neither party made significant pickups in the number of legislative seats held, Democrats’ gains were more meaningful, flipping the Virginia House. And Republicans’ pickup of the Louisiana governorship added a trifecta, cementing the GOP’s control of the Deep South.

For more on partisan control throughout the nation, see NCSL’s preelection stats at State Partisan Composition.

Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program. Ben Williams is the associate director of the Elections and Redistricting Program.

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