Pandemic Timeline

Unsanitized, Election Edition: Where State Legislatures Could Flip

Unsanitized, Election Edition: Where State Legislatures Could Flip

LANSING, MI, - DECEMBER 11: People line up to try to enter the House Chamber where a vote is scheduled to take place on Right-to-Work legislation at the Michigan State Capitol December 11, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. Republicans control the Michigan House of Representatives, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said he will sign the bill if it is passed. The new law would make requiring financial support of a union as a condition of employment illegal. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

This article is adapted from Unsanitized: The COVID-19 Daily Report put out by The American Prospect. You can find the original publication here.

First Ballot

Ten years ago, a guy who was one of my bosses when I wrote for Salon, and whose name is so similar that we would be mistaken all the time, noticed the trend that helped Republicans establish dominance for a decade. David Daley wrote the book Ratf**ked, which was about a secret Republican program to pour money into state legislative races in the 2010 midterm elections.

The idea was that winning big in the legislatures would give Republicans the power of redistricting in many states, enabling them to secure control for a decade by gerrymandering. If they could sustain this through 2020, they’d get another 10 years of map control, and so on. It was a path to a permanent Republican majority. And the resounding Republican victory in 2010 did provide this opportunity.

The permanent majority did not totally come to pass. The House gerrymander didn’t hold, and Democrats regained control in 2018. Gerrymanders of House seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were struck down by the courts. But in other areas, particularly state legislatures in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere, the maps did provide security that Republicans would stay in charge, even if the mood of the electorate changed.

Democrats have learned this time that they need to compete hard here, to take advantage of demographic and voter sentiment changes (particularly in the suburbs) and win big in state legislatures, to either block unilateral Republican crafting of the maps or gain the power themselves. The money is finally available for Democrats to compete for these legislative races, too. A couple sites have highlighted the states where control of the legislature is up for grabs. Let’s take a look.

We start in Arizona, where Democrats need just two House seats and three Senate seats to take over each chamber. Arizona has an independent redistricting process, but Supreme Court changes raise the possibility that independent commissions created by ballot initiative could be struck down. Winning the state legislature would prevent Republicans and their governor Doug Ducey from getting Supreme Court go-ahead to write the maps unilaterally.

Like Arizona, Michigan’s independent redistricting commission could be struck down. Democrats need four House seats to flip the chamber; the Senate is not up this year. Democrats have a shot to flip the partisan makeup of the state Supreme Court, currently with a 4-3 Republican lean but with two races on the ballot that would give Democrats control if they win them. That would give Democrats the advantage should redistricting maps go to litigation. Democrats could take the Iowa House with four pickups; there’s also an independent redistricting commission in the Hawkeye State, but if Republicans have unilateral control, they can just ignore it.

Minnesota has the only split legislature in America. Democrats have the state House but Republicans have thin 35-32 control of the state Senate. If Democrats flip two seats, they’d have total control of the government, and the redistricting maps.

A surprisingly plausible flip is in the Texas House, which is currently 83-67 Republican. Fast-changing regions of the state give the possibility for a pickup of the 9 seats required to give Democrats control and block a Republican trifecta. Beto O’Rourke carried a majority of Texas House districts in his 2018 U.S. Senate run.

Slightly less plausible are Democratic takeovers of the Pennsylvania Senate (5 seats needed) and the Georgia House (16 seats needed). The maps are pretty strong resistance to this happening, but there have been significant demographic and ideological changes here. Florida could conceivably see a Democratic flip of the Senate (currently 23-17 Republican), but only half of the seats are up. North Carolina (29-21 Republican in the Senate and 65-55 Republican in the House) is an outside shot, though the House is more likely.

In other states, Democrats just want to avoid a Republican super-majority in the legislature, in some cases to avert vetoes of Democratic governors. In Kansas, Democrats need 1 House or 3 Senate seats to break a two-thirds Republican majority and preserve Democratic governor Laura Kelly’s vetoes. Democrats need 2 state Senate seats in Missouri to stop two-thirds control. Republicans could conceivably gain supermajorities in Ohio and Wisconsin; in Wisconsin a supermajority could override Democratic governor Tony Evers, and in Ohio, the key fights are in the state Supreme Court, which with two victories could flip to Democratic control.

Republicans are mostly on defense but they may be able to flip legislative chambers in New Hampshire and Alaska. Joe Biden’s persistent lead in the popular vote, however, gives the potential for a very good night for Democrats in state legislature, which could persist through 2030.

The October Surprise We Knew About

Today the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that gross domestic product grew in the third quarter at an annualized rate of 33.1 percent. It was on the calendar that they would introduce this figure on this date for months if not years, and once we learned that GDP in the second quarter fell 31.7 percent, it was obvious that there would be a big bounce back in the third quarter.

Incidentally, just because the third quarter number is bigger than the second quarter number doesn’t mean we have won back all of the gains of the pandemic-induced recession. Currently, real GDP is running 3.5 percent below its peak. During the Great Recession, the biggest economic crisis in nearly a century, GDP was at its depth 4.0 percent below the peak. It’s a small surprise that we’re not at a greater depth than 2008 right now (thank savings from the initial stimulus, now rapidly dwindled, for that), but if you factor in the tremendous inequality seen in this recession, it’s a much worse situation for millions.

All of that, of course, has been completely ignored by the Trump campaign, which predictably is acting like the pandemic never happened (why break precedent) in touting the numbers. But this is not unexpected; we knew GDP would show a big number and that it would show on this day. It tells you nothing about the management of the economy or the virus, and given the also predictable fall/winter outbreak, I’m bracing for the next report.

Check This Out

Over at the Prospect, we have a great piece from our writing fellow Marcia Brown on immigration lawyers, stressed emotionally and financially after four years of Trump, and considering leaving the profession. Read it here.

Also Alex Sammon looks at the prodigious funds being raised online for Democratic candidates, and posits that big money no longer has to be chased for Democrats to be competitive in elections. And Eleanor Eagan surveys Trump’s crippling of the administrative state.

I was on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about yesterday’s Big Tech hearing in the Senate, and the platforms more generally. Listen here.

Days Until the Election


Today I Learned, Election Edition

  • The Supreme Court reserves the right to toss out Pennsylvania votes after the fact. If you’re a Pennsylvanian and still holding onto your ballot, don’t drop it in the mail. (Vox)
  • Quite incredible that a major political party’s strategy for victory is open vote suppression in a tipping point state. (The New Yorker)
  • Brett Kavanaugh had to change his opinion in the Wisconsin voting case because he mucked up a fact about Vermont. (CNN)
  • If you’re in the hospital, you can still vote in most states. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Voter signature verification on mail-in ballots is a minefield. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Oh yeah, the voting machine industry is super-consolidated. This is in my book Monopolized. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Postal Service stole Tucker Carlson’s only copy of his really good, really and truly, Hunter Biden information. Fire the postmaster general! (Boing Boing)
  • Everyone’s passing around this Jon Ossoff takedown of his Georgia Senate opponent David Perdue during a debate. (Washington Post)

David Dayen

David Dayen is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @ddayen.