Redistricting Highlights Battle For State Legislatures

It’s a fight Democrats have won over the past few years. The party boasts 55% of the nation’s 7,382 statehouse seats — the most it has held since before the Republican rout of 1994, and enough to control 60 legislatures nationwide, including both chambers in 27 states. (Republicans, by contrast, control 36 chambers and 14 states outright; two chambers — the Alaska senate and the Montana house — are tied, and Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral.) In a cycle when the political headwinds seem likely to blow the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly the U.S. Senate back to the GOP, maintaining their edge in state legislatures would be a major victory for the Democrats. “Our legislative majorities are the firewall for the Democratic Party,” says Michael Sargeant, executive director of the DLCC, which has spent more than $10 million so far this year to defend key chambers. “If we’re able to hold our majorities, we’ll make sure we have fair representation in Congress.”

But it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to hold all of them. After gaining ground in three straight cycles, Democrats are defending slim majorities in statehouses across the U.S., and experts expect a drubbing — one spurred partly by their own recent successes. “The pendulum is kind of at its apex, and it’s ready to swing back,” says Tim Storey, senior fellow at the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, who says Democratic losses could be in the range of 500 seats. Ed Gillespie, former head of the Republican National Committee and chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, says the GOP will flip at least 10 chambers. Among its key targets are the New York senate, the Alabama senate and the Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio houses. “Whoever controls these legislatures in most cases will be drawing congressional district lines for a decade,” says Gillespie, who estimates his group will spend $18 million dollars on state races between Labor Day and Nov. 2. “We’re likely to make big gains.”

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