Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Don't Hate The Rating, Hate The Game edition

Hey, you.
Yeah, you. Person who reads this collection of statehouse news and jokes of questionable quality each week.
It’s not exactly news that Election Day is right around the corner.
But you know that means, right?
  • First, let’s get one little thing out of the way first. I’m going to be talking about chamber majorities won/lost/kept, not legislative seats.
    • Because counting the number of state legislative seats won or lost by each party nationwide is a meaningless metric.
      • Winning more seats in a chamber is a good thing, but it only matters insofar as it gets you closer to a majority in that chamber.
      • But total number of seats across the country? Garbage. Anyone who tries to get you to care about that number is wasting your time.
And I value your time. Frankly, I’m shocked (but appreciative!) that you sliced a chunk of it out of your busy day to give to this.
Is one party holding a greater number of legislative seats than the other a general indicator of partisan health at the state level? Sure.
  • But it’s a lousy measure of real party power—especially when you take into account that, while Democrats hold somewhere around 1,000 fewer state legislative seats than Republicans across all the states, they only need to flip 17 seats from the GOP to win majority control of eight legislative chambers.
So, since chamber control is the only measure of power at the state legislative level that matters, here’s where we are now:
  • Republicans hold majority control of 66 chambers (excluding Nebraska, which is technically nonpartisan), while Democrats control the other 32.
  • Of the 98 partisan chambers across the country, 87 are on the ballot this fall.
  • Of those, only 22 can be fairly regarded as competitive.
...in my legitimately expert opinion, anyway.
First, some stage setting.
  • Midterms have been “historically” lousy elections for Democrats at the state legislative level.
    • But historically really should mean longer ago than the previous two midterms, IMO.
    • Because, yeah, it’s not news that Democrats lost majorities in a ton of chambers in 2010 and backslid even further in 2014 (partly as a consequence of the post-2010 redistricting that, thanks to that cycle’s statehouse results, was overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans).
    • But the midterms during George W. Bush’s presidency weren’t bad for Democrats. Team Blue picked up majority control or ties in handful of chambers in both 2002 and 2006.
    • And now a Republican is president again. And not just any Republican—a political lightning rod with low approval ratings in key states.
  • But presidential approval isn’t the ballgame, not by a long shot. Rather, it’s the stage on which these elections play out.
    • And Democrats aren’t 100 percent on offense this cycle, either.
      • In particular, they’re defending skin-of-their-teeth majorities in the Connecticut Senate and the Delaware Senate, as well as a governing coalition in the Alaska House.
  • But generally this cycle? It’s much better to be a Democrat that a Republican.
Tired of reading already? Okay. My money’s on Democrats picking up five chambers on Nov. 6.
Still with me?
Great, let’s do this.
(If you’d like to see a full list of chambers that I consider “Safe” for the party that controls them, as well as those that aren’t up for election this year, please click here.)
  • Arizona Senate (13D/17R): Democrats only need to flip two seats to tie the chamber, three to control it outright. Democrats have left just one seat uncontested (full stats on that for all chambers right here), while Republicans have given five Democrats walks on Nov. 6. Latino turnout will likely determine whether this is the year Democrats finally take this white whale or if it’s yet another Oh Dang We Were So Close year.
  • Connecticut Senate (18D/18R; effective Democratic control): Retirements on both sides and comparably successful recruitment between the parties help make this anyone’s game. Hopefully outgoing Gov. Dan Malloy’s unpopularity doesn’t poison the well too badly for Democrats. (Note: Ties are currently broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor, so if it remains tied, the outcome of this year’s open-seat race will loom large.)
  • Iowa House (41D/58R): A bunch of GOP retirements and a truckload (25!) of uncontested Dem seats help put this chamber in play. Democratic fundraising and ground game are reportedly strong here, and Republicans have two years of crappy unified governance (gutting unions, nearly banning abortioncutting taxesto Kansas-like levels) to defend.
  • Minnesota House (56D/77R/1 vacancy): Local and national operatives with respected track records are almost hilariously bullish on Democratic prospects here, and Democrats at every other level of the ballot are polling quite strongly. There’s no reason to think this enthusiasm won’t translate down-ballot.
Lean D
  • Alaska House (17D/21R/2I; effective Democratic control): A slew of Republican retirements and two years of relative success as a majority coalition give Democrats a better shot at holding control than how things appear on paper, so to speak. (Three Republicans currently caucus with the Democrats.)
  • Colorado Senate (16D/18R/1I): Democrats are effectively one seat away from chamber control, but that doesn’t make this a gimme majority this year. Republicans want to keep this Senate as much as Democrats want to take it from them, and outside spending is high on both sides.
  • Delaware Senate (11D/10R): Democrats are probably fine here this year, but this chamber margin is a bit too close for comfort in this blue state, especially with three Dem retirements and comparable recruitment on both sides.
  • New Hampshire House (167D/212R/2 other/19 vacant): This chamber is prone to wild swings in partisan composition each cycle, and Democrats have a leg up here in terms of recruitment and open seats.
Lean R
  • Arizona House (25D/35R): Democrats out-recruited Republicans here this cycle, and with House districts identical to Senate districts (the former elect two representatives each), success in the upper chamber is likely to translate to the lower chamber.
  • Florida Senate (16D/22R/2 vacancies): Democrats are defending fewer seats here relative to Republicans (Florida Senate elections are staggered), and they won the recruiting game, too. If Democrats don’t flip this chamber on Nov. 6, watch for them to take it in 2020.
  • Michigan House (46D/63R/1vacancy): An uphill climb for sure, but term limits have forced a lot of incumbent Republicans out, resulting in a slew of open seats. Additionally, according to the guy who drew Michigan’s gerrymandered legislative maps, the GOP’s House majority is dependent on the Republicans at the top of the ticket winning 47 percent of the vote statewide—something current polls indicate Team Red may struggle to do.
  • New Hampshire Senate (10D/14R): Three seats might not sound like a lot, but in a chamber this small, it’s tough (as Democrats learned when they sought but failed to flip it in 2016). Don’t be shocked if the Democrats win this House and this chamber stays in Republican hands.
  • Wisconsin Senate (15D/18R): Again, flipping two seats looks easy on paper—until you see the GOP’s gerrymandered map. But Democrats are running strong challengers in two key districts, so I’m not writing this one off.
Also worth mentioning: North Carolina.
To read the rest of this post, click here.
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