After an election that failed to deliver the powerful gains that Democrats had hoped for, results from statehouses painted a similar picture, with the lowest number of chambers changing hands in more than half a century.
Democrats had hoped for a “Blue Wave” to sweep statehouses that Republicans had controlled for years, running expensive ad campaigns and extensive get-out-the-vote efforts. But as the results came in, it became increasingly clear that they had failed on multiple fronts.
On Wednesday, the results were not yet final, but the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state-level races, said there were changes or potential shifts of control in just four chambers: the New Hampshire House and Senate, which Republicans took back from Democrats, and possibly the House and Senate in Arizona, though the contests for those chambers were still too close to call. He said it was the first time since 1946 that so few chambers were changing hands.
“This is crazy in that almost nothing has changed,” said Tim Storey, an expert with the NCSL “It really jumps off the page.”
Democrats failed to take control of the Texas House from Republicans, a prize that had seemed within reach. They also lost the battle for North Carolina’s House and Senate, chambers they had set their sights on after years of Republican control. And they failed to flip the Iowa House, according to the NCSL. Democrats also failed to flip the Houses in Pennsylvania and Michigan, Storey said.
“Our electoral targets in this election were in difficult states that remain gerrymandered from a decade ago,” said Patrick Rodenbush, communications director for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “It was always going to take a ‘blue wave’ for us to get deeper into the map in states like Texas and North Carolina, and that didn’t happen for Democrats.”
He said Democrats had achieved some victories, like preventing Republicans from gaining a supermajority in the Wisconsin Assembly, which will stop the Legislature from overriding any veto of electoral maps by the Democratic governor. And the election of Judge Jennifer Brunner to the Ohio Supreme Court reduces the court’s conservative majority from four to three, he said.
Statehouses are important because they are the places where issues like abortion, guns and police reform get decided. They are particularly critical this year because of a process known as redistricting: the redrawing of state and national electoral maps after the decennial census. While some states use nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to draw these maps, the process in most states is controlled by the majority party in the state legislature. The most recent census is being finalized, and data will be sent to the states for redistricting beginning next year.
Republicans still have a distinct advantage since winning two dozen chambers in the 2010 election cycle, double the average number of chambers that flip every two years, according to Storey. Before Tuesday’s election, Republicans controlled about three-fifths of all 98 partisan legislative chambers. If no other chambers flip as new results come in, that Republican dominance will not change.
“It was a huge night for state Republicans,” said David Abrams, deputy executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focuses on electing Republicans to state offices. “Democrats spent hundreds of millions of dollars to flip state chambers. So far, they don’t have a damn thing to show for it.”
In all, about 80% of the nation’s 7,383 state legislative seats were up for grabs.
The Democrats did not make much progress in governor’s races either. In Montana, the Republican, Greg Gianforte won against Mike Cooney, a Democrat, who was the lieutenant governor. The state’s governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat, ran for U.S. Senate and lost to the Republican incumbent, Steve Daines. The outcome in Montana ends more than 16 years of Democratic leadership in a state that usually votes Republican for president.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson, the Republican incumbent, won reelection, beating his Democratic challenger, Nicole Galloway, by 17 percentage points. North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, held on to his seat in a close race against his Republican challenger, Dan Forest.
Measures to change rules over redistricting passed in several states. In Missouri, voters approved a plan that would effectively restore control over redistricting to the Republican-controlled legislature, from a process that involved a more neutral state demographer. In Virginia, where Democrats took control of both chambers last year, voters approved a measure moving the process from the state legislature to a redistricting commission composed of state legislators and citizens, according to The Associated Press.