Democrats Gain Upper Hand

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    (AP) – The Democratic wave reached statehouses around the country.

    Riding voter discontent with national Republican leadership, state-level Democrats cemented control of both legislative chambers in 23 states and improved their position in others.

    With an estimated net gain of nearly 300 seats, the vote resulted in the most one-sided gains for either party since the Republican romp of 1994. The pickup of legislative seats by Democrats will break what had been a very close divide, and give the party’s lawmakers more power to shape state policy and to play a key role in drawing congressional districts.

    In New Hampshire, Michigan and elsewhere, Democratic candidates scored victories that positioned them to take the legislative helm in at least nine chambers.

    “At the end of the day, the tide really just moved in one direction,” said Tim Storey, analyst for the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the group that projected the Democratic gain. “With a lot of echoes of 1994 when the tide moved almost entirely in the direction of Republicans, this time the tide moved almost entirely in the direction of Democrats.”

    The gains have taken on added importance since the Supreme Court ruled in June that states are free to redraw districts at any time, without waiting until after each decade’s national census.

    Such a mid-decade redistricting by either party is unlikely, observers said. But the gains by Democrats strengthen their position for the redrawing of congressional territory after the 2010 census.

    “The parties in control are going to try to maintain that control because redistricting is only five years away,” said Alan Rosenthal, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University.

    Prior to Election Day, the balance of power in legislatures was almost evenly split. Of the nearly 7,400 seats in statehouses nationwide, Democrats held an advantage of just 21 seats. Republicans controlled both chambers in 20 states, with Democrats leading both houses in 19 others.

    But that is about to change.

    All the chambers that switched control in Tuesday’s election went to the Democrats, the first time that has happened since Republicans took over leadership of 20 chambers in 1994. In both years, a single chamber ended in a tie.

    Most of the Democratic gains came in the East and the Midwest, but for the first time since 1982, Democrats actually gained seats, albeit a handful, in Southern legislatures.

    In Indiana, House Democrats regained control of the chamber they lost two years ago. The GOP controls the Senate.

    Democrats in Minnesota brushed aside the Republican House majority and then some, claiming nearly veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Democrats gained control of the Michigan House for the first time in eight years.

    In Iowa, Democrats also gained seats _ allowing them to break a tie in the Senate and take control of the House. “It looks like we got caught in a wave,” House Speaker Christopher Rants said of Republican losses.

    New Hampshire Democrats won control of both the Senate and the House, taking the latter for the first time since 1922. In Oregon, Democrats took both chambers for the first time since 1990. And the Senate in Wisconsin also went to the Democrats.

    In Pennsylvania, where Democrats gained at least five seats, control of the House hinged on the outcome of five tight races in Republican-held districts.

    There were some bright spots for the GOP. In Tennessee, for example, Republicans held their state Senate majority. In the Oklahoma Senate, Republicans gained enough seats to tie the Democrats, but the tie-breaking vote will still rest with a Democratic lieutenant governor.

    But those appeared to be the exceptions.

    “I think what’s clear is there are a lot of states where Democrats now have a seat at the table,” said Michael Davies, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

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