The Republican Party currently controls more state legislative chambers than at any time in the nation’s history, but this position may be threatened in the upcoming elections.
After successful elections in 2010 and 2014, the GOP controlled both chambers in 30 states and either the House or Senate in 9 states.
The White House may have fallen to the enemy, but that didn’t stop state lawmakers from pushing conservative agendas throughout the country. These staunch men and women restricted access to abortion services, cut taxes, curbed the power of labor unions, made it easier to purchase and carry guns, and expanded educational options for students.
Some of these improvements will be threatened this year by a larger-than-ever Democratic voter turnout.
GOP legislative majorities are particularly at risk in swing states like Colorado and New Hampshire, the latter of which is being courted by Sanders and Hillary in an effort to gather Millennial voters to Hillary’s cause.
The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), a nonpartisan organization that tracks state-level races, reports that 13 of the 18 chambers most likely to see the rival party win this year are currently held by Republicans.
The state Senates in West Virginia, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado could switch to Democratic control with a single seat change. The GOP will also be defending slight House majorities in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and New Mexico, where recent polls show Clinton with a lead on Donald Trump.
“When you are at a number that you have never before hit in history, you naturally have more ground to defend,” explains President Matt Walter of the Republican State Leadership Committee.
“It’s really a year of opportunity for the Democrats, given the success Republicans have had in the last several election cycles,” says NCSL director Tim Storey. “ Republicans have pushed about as far as they can get.”
This year’s presidential election, featuring two of the most disliked candidates in history, has convinced many Democratic and Republican candidates to keep their distance from either nominee.
“They are, for the most part, running very independent campaigns, which is hard because at the end, the presidential race will swamp a lot of the legislative races,” says Storey. “These candidates are working harder than ever because they know they can’t control the top of the ticket.”
“Our candidates are running on issues that have very little to do with the dialogue at the presidential level, like whether you can afford the taxes on your home and will your children get the kind of education that will provide them with opportunities,” says Walter. “These candidates will win or lose based on the strength of their campaigns, not the top of the ticket.”
Unfortunately this hasn’t kept the Dems from trying to link their GOP rivals to Trump’s controversial rhetoric on minorities, women, and immigrants.
In response, many Republican candidates are simply refusing to announce who they will be voting for. “I have been focusing on my own campaign, and I think it’s important that voters see that,” says Heidi Gansert, a Republican who is trying to oust Democratic Senator Devon Reese in Nevada. Gansert has not officially endorsed Trump, and there is no mention of him on her campaign website.
Overall, the November ballot will list 5,917 legislative races and more than 100 ballot questions on issues including gambling, transportation, and taxation. The outcomes will determine whether the Dems have enough votes to spend more money on education, raise the minimum wage, and impose regulations to fight global warming.
“Legislative races get relatively little attention even though they are passing laws about things that really matter to people, like schools and roads and prisons and health care,” notes Storey. “The presidential race is the big show.”