Deep Bench

by digby

Here's an interesting post-mortem from John Judis on how the parties fared in the state legislatures in which he rightly points out:

Not only do they provide a rough measure of party loyalty, which reflects national politics, but they can also determine the overall success or failure of a party for years to come.

The overall results in this year's state legislative races show a dramatic swing toward the Democrats. In races for state Senate, which usually undercount urban areas, the Democrats went from a 48 percent minority to a 51 percent majority; in state House races, they went from 49 to 55 percent of all seats. Prior to the election, Republicans controlled 20 state legislatures, the Democrats 19, and ten were split between House and Senate (Nebraska's legislature is non-partisan). After the election, Democrats controlled 23, Republicans 15, and eleven were split.

Even more striking, however, are the trends in individual states. They show which states and regions are becoming solidly Democratic or solidly Republican, and which have become or remain contestable. Here's a summary of where the two parties stand around the country:

The Northeast
Republicans not only didn't make significant gains in any Northeastern state, they suffered significant losses in states where the party still had residual strength. New Hampshire, for example, now appears to be in the Democrats' corner. Democrats there picked up six seats in the Senate, giving them a 14 to 10 advantage; in the House, where they were down 150 to 242 seats, nearly one hundred seats switched hands, giving Democrats a 239 to 161 majority. Democrats also made very large gains in Connecticut, Maine, and Maryland (which Republicans had hoped to win back after Republican Robert Ehrlich won the governorship in 2002).

Border states and the Upper South
Republicans made no gains in these states and suffered significant losses in West Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas, where Democrats won the governorship and picked up three legislative seats. They have a huge 27 to eight majority in the Arkansas Senate and a 75 to 25 majority in the House. Democrats now enjoy a clear advantage in Arkansas and West Virginia, and Missouri and Virginia are up for grabs. Kentucky still leans Republican, but Democrats picked up five House seats.

The Midwest
Republicans lost legislative seats throughout the Midwest, including Indiana. Iowa and Minnesota, which have teetered between Republican and Democratic control, appear to have become solidly Democratic. In Minnesota, Democrats won six Senate seats and 19 House seats, and in Iowa five Senate and five House seats. Republicans still enjoy majorities in both chambers in Ohio, though Democrats picked up one Senate seat and seven House seats there. But legislative majorities in Ohio depend on redistricting, which a Democratic governor will now control.

The South
The deep South remains Republican, as the party won two Senate seats and a House seat in Alabama, gained a House seat in South Carolina, and maintained its huge advantage in Georgia, which it won in 2004 when Republicans went from a six-to-five disadvantage to a seven-to-five advantage in the state legislature. Democrats made significant gains, however, in North Carolina and Florida, which are now contestable.

The Great Plains
Republican subordination to the religious right cost the party in the Dakotas and Kansas. In Kansas, with the wounds from a controversy over evolution still fresh, the Democrats picked up six House seats; in South Dakota (where a draconian anti-abortion initiative failed) five Senate seats and one House seat; and in North Dakota six Senate seats and six House seats. A Democratic presidential candidate may not carry these states, but it is now imaginable that a Democrat could be elected senator from Kansas.

Rocky Mountain states
Utah remains solidly Republican. Montana has a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators in Congress, but by losing two Senate seats, Democrats lost control of the Senate. Democrats picked up three Senate seats in Wyoming. These states have become competitive, but no means Democratic. But the big change is in Colorado, where Democrats solidified their victories in 2004, winning two more Senate seats and four more House seats. Colorado, like New Hampshire, may have turned blue this year.

The Southwest
Despite Republican Representative Heather Wilson's re-election in Albuquerque (due to a disastrous debate performance by her opponent at the campaign's end), New Mexico remains Democratic, as Democrats maintained their almost three-to-two margin in the state legislature. In Arizona, Republicans still control the legislature, but Democrats picked up seven seats in the House, narrowing the Republican margin to only 32 to 28. In Oklahoma and Texas, Republicans remain in command, although Democrats picked up five House seats in Texas despite Tom DeLay's rigging of district lines.

The Pacific Coast
Democrats held their own in California, as expected. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor, but he won re-election by firing the Pete Wilson protégés who initially ran the House and replacing them with Democrats. The Democrats picked up four seats in Oregon and 13 seats in Washington. After a gubernatorial cliff-hanger in 2004, Washington has become dependably Democratic.

Unlike the congressional or presidential elections, state races are not tied directly to national political issues. A candidate for the California Assembly, for example, doesn't run on a platform of withdrawing from Iraq. But, while they don't show whether a particular state will support a Democrat or Republican for president in 2008-- presidential contests are still shaped too much by the candidates' political skills--they do provide a good indication of which party a state or region will favor, on average, over the next four or five elections.

By this measure, Democrats should dominate the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Far West; make serious inroads in the Rockies, Plains states, and Southwest; and win a good share of seats in the border states and Upper South. The Republicans will maintain their hold over the Deep South, Utah, and, perhaps, Idaho. But they will have to work to win elections everywhere else. In short, if these trends hold up, the Republicans are in trouble. So much for Karl Rove's math.

So much for Karl Rove.

One other thing that's not mentioned very often, but which I find astonishing. I think we all sort of saw this as a "throw the bums out" election. The public might hate all incumbents, but the majority is likely to lose more so it's bad news for them and good news for the minority party. What's significant in this election is that the Democrats didn't lose any seats at all. It wasn't just disgust with "Washington" as Karl Rove wants people to believe. It was a very specific national rebuke of the Republican Party in all but its most solid strongholds in the deep South and a few western states.

Update: Bowers crunched these numbers too and makes this great point:

We have now almost entirely restocked our bench following the 1994 elections. Our list of potential candidates for higher office at every level is now much longer than it was only six years ago. We also are in a position to favorably remake electoral maps in than we were six years ago. Also, by taking a substantial lead in trifectas, now we can govern for the first time in a long time, shifting the national policy debate decidedly in our favor. The trend for us at the state level has been pretty much straight upward from 2004-2006. As the backbone of our national coalition, this makes our majorities and influence in Washington, D.C. all the greater.