The Democratic Party has to gain a lot of ground to catch up to Republicans at the state level: Republicans flipped nearly 1,000 state legislative seats across the country during Barack Obama’s presidency. This November, Democrats are looking to pick up seats in state legislatures and gain more power outside of Washington. Here’s a look at where things stand.
The current map: Right now, Republicans control the entire legislature — both House and Senate chambers — in 31 states (including Nebraska, which is unicameral), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And nationwide, Republicans control 66 of the country’s 99 state-level legislatures. Democrats lag far behind; the party controls 31 legislative chambers, and control both the Senate and the House in just 14 states.
Republicans on defense: Since 2010, Republicans have made steady gains in state legislatures. Since incumbents are heavily favored in state elections, name recognition can be a big advantage. But more Democratic candidates are running than in past cycles. As a result, fewer incumbents are the running unopposed — 28 percent this year, down from a historical average of 35 percent.
Democrats’ targets: The number of Democratic candidates on the ballot in 2018 — more than 5,000 — is the most in two decades. And for the first time in six election cycles, Democrats are running for more House seats than Republicans. Democrats have focused on the five divided state legislatures where just a few seats in one chamber could give them a majority. Here are three of the states Democrats are targeting:
- Colorado: Democrats will likely hold onto their majority in the Colorado state House. They need to flip just two Republican state Senate seats for full majority control. In the most competitive state races in Colorado, candidates on both sides have spent close to millions of dollars and outside groups have spent more than $7.5 million.
- New York: In New York, Democrats are on track to hold onto the governor’s mansion and their majority in the state assembly. For full control, they’ll have to flip one GOP seat in the state Senate, which Republicans have controlled recently through a bipartisan coalition. In the past, Republicans have outspent Democrats in these races, but Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and national PACs are investing heavily this year to turn the Senate blue.
- Michigan: Democrats are hoping to end the GOP’s control of both state chambers in Michigan. But it won’t be easy: Republicans have solid majorities in the state House (63-47) and the state Senate (27-11). Democrats are optimistic that turnover in both the House and Senate , where a combined 30 GOP lawmakers are up against term limits, will benefit new candidates.
Other state races to watch: Republicans have slim majorities in Maine’s state Senate and both of New Hampshire’s state legislative chambers. Republicans hold majorities by five or fewer seats in state chambers in Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Party control could also change hands in Florida, Iowa, South Carolina and West Virginia, where control of state legislative chambers hangs on 10 or fewer seats.