The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Hold Off Democratic Bid to Flip State Legislatures

The Wall Street Journal
By Christine Mai-Duc
November 5, 2020
LINK TO STORY

Democrats have come up short in their bid to flip control of several state legislative chambers this year and gain power in a coming round of redistricting.

As of late Wednesday, Republicans had flipped control of two chambers, the New Hampshire state House and Senate, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona’s state Senate and House were too close to call.

Of the 98 partisan chambers, Republicans will control at least 59 next year. (Nebraska has a nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature.)

Republicans will control both legislative chambers in 24 of the 36 states in which legislatures draw district lines for U.S. Congress, the state legislature itself, or both, according to the conference.

Democrats had targeted 10 legislative chambers they hoped to flip, and national groups raised at least $88 million to support that cause, compared with more than $60 million for Republicans. The results mirror a weak showing for Democrats in U.S. Congressional races.

There are likely to be the fewest partisan changes in state legislative chambers since at least 1944, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“There was this massive battle with so much sound and fury and money,” said Tim Storey, the nonpartisan group’s executive director. “In the end, there’s just very little change.”

Austin Chambers, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, the GOP’s national arm helping state legislative candidates, said his party’s ability to influence redistricting after this year’s census would benefit it for a decade.

“We beat the hell out of them, and they have nothing to show for it,” Mr. Chambers said in a call with reporters Wednesday.

Democrats, who thought they were on the offense in many states they lost, blamed polling error and the fact that they were running candidates in district lines drawn largely by the GOP after massive victories in 2010.

“Republicans won because the top of the ticket overperformed and they were running on rigged maps designed for them to win,” said Christina Polizzi, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

In Texas, Democrats failed in their quest to seize nine state House seats and flip the chamber for the first time in 18 years. They had hoped to build on their gains in 2018, when they picked up 12 state House seats mostly in the increasingly diverse suburbs.

With most votes counted, GOP candidates were leading in 14 of the 16 seats targeted by Democrats, according to Texas secretary of state tallies, and were on track to gain one of their own.

“We didn’t need Biden to win in Texas, but we needed it to be close,” said Vicky Hausman, co-founder of the group Forward Majority, which poured $12 million into legislative campaigns in the state. “Obviously, it was not the night that Democrats hoped for up and down the ballot.”

President Trump won Texas, according to the Associated Press, with 52% of the vote compared with 46% for Joe Biden as of Wednesday night.

Patrick Rodenbush, spokesman for a committee formed by former Democratic President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, to influence redistricting, said the group would continue to pursue other strategies, including litigation and trying to affect the partisan makeup of state courts that could invalidate gerrymandered maps.

Michael Li, an attorney who follows redistricting for New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, said some litigation strategies have been weakened by courts over the past decade but that he expects the fight over how political boundaries are drawn in states to remain intense.

“No one is going to roll over and play dead simply because they didn’t win control of the Texas House,” Mr. Li added. “It will be a multifront war, and if the last decade is any guide, some of the litigation will last almost a decade.”