The major political parties are playing for all the marbles this November. The next election coincides with the decennial census, which means we are once again on the eve of redistricting. The congressional reapportionment that follows the census elevates the upcoming gubernatorial and state legislative elections to a once-in-a-decade level of importance.
The national environment, increasingly bad for President Barack Obama and therefore good for the Republicans, is a development that could not have come at a more critical time for the party of Lincoln--which the left-leaning members of the punditocracy declared all but dead after the last election.
Rather than inaugurate a new era of activist liberalism, the Obama years are looking increasingly like they are sounding the death knell for the Democrats as a majority party. The reason is that many of the big and middle-sized states look ready to at least give the GOP a determinant voice in the redistricting process, which affects the makeup of state legislature as well as the U.S. Congress. According to a survey of state elections just released by Governing Magazine, “More chambers are in play this year than in any cycle since at least 2002.” Moreover, the survey concludes, “the Democrats have vastly more at risk than the Republicans do.”
Currently, the Democrats have 21 chambers in play, compared to just four for the Republicans. In none of the previous five cycles--which included two national wave elections (2006 and 2008) and a heavily anti-incumbent cycle for governors (2002)--was there ever this wide a difference in projected risk between the two parties.
"This is going to be an extremely challenging year for Democrats for a variety of reasons," Tim Storey, who analyzes elections for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the magazine. "History is not on their side. Since 1900, the party in the White House loses seats in the legislature in every midterm except for 1934 and 2002. That's a 2-25 losing streak for the party in the White House--a tough trend to break. Add to that the fact that Democrats are riding high right now at over 55 percent of all seats, and it shapes up to be possibly the worst election for Democrats since 1994."
A conservative analysis of the nation’s 99 state chambers (Nebraska has a unicameral legislative body) indicates control is an issue in at least 27, with ten rated as “tossups.” And all ten of the tossups are currently controlled by the Democrats, including several that are important for redistricting purposes including the New York and Wisconsin State Senates and the Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania House of Representatives. With Obama’s approval rating having taken up seemingly permanent residence below the 50 percent mark, the national environment means the Democrats go into these critically important races as underdogs--at a time when there is more on the line than at any recent time in history.