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Dems Show Promising Strength in State Legs

Despite the greater media attention given Congressional elections, the state legislatures may provide a more useful measure of the health of the political parties nation-wide, serving as a sort of “farm” club, where future leaders are trained and prepared for statewide office, congress and even national politics. The party composition of the state legs as a whole also reflect the political divisions of the American people better than the composition of congress, because there are so many. At last count, for example, there were 3,658 Democrats serving in the state legislatures, compared to 3,656 Republicans, which shows how closely divided is the nation far more accurately than the congressional head count. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now control both chambers of 20 state legislatures, Democrats control 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., 10 states have control split between the two parties and Nebraska has a nominally “non-partisan” (and unicameral) state legislature.

But the good news for Dems is that the trend, in the wake of the 2004 elections has turned in our favor. Dems had a net gain of 60 legislative seats in the November elections, reversing the 2002 results that gave Republicans more state legislators for the first time in a half-century. Democrats also took control of seven additional state legislatures and achieved a tie in the Iowa senate, compared to GOP winning control of four legislative chambers. In Colorado, Dems won control of both the state house and senate for the first time since 1974. In North Carolina, Dems won back control of the state House and increased their lead in the state Senate.

So under-reported were the Democratic victories that Tim Storey, a political analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the 2004 Democratic victories in state legislatures were “like a hidden election,” making a bit of a mockery of the red/blue state distinctions. And remember, the state legislatures define the political boundaries of districts that elect members of Congress.

Looking ahead to 2006, some of the ripest targets for Democratic takeovers, with current margins by party, include:

Indiana House 48D - 52R
Iowa House 49D – 51R
Iowa Senate 25 tied
Michigan House 52D –58R
Michigan Senate 16D-22R
Minnesota House 66D-68R
Nevada Senate 9D –12R
Oregon House 27D –33R
Tennessee Senate 16D – 17R
Wisconsin Senate 14D - 19R

In these chambers, divide the GOP margin by two, add one, round off to the higher number, and you have the number of seats the Dems must take from the GOP to win control of the chamber. Of course the Dems have some thin margins of majority of their own to defend in a few states. But prospective donors who want to help the Democratic Party increase future strength should consider supporting Dem candidates for office in these chambers as a good way to get more bang for the buck.