Will A Republican Wave Wash Over State Legislatures and Your State Government Relations Program?

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

While much of the national press has been debating whether or not Republicans will take control of the U.S. House and possibly the Senate, much less press attention has been paid to the potential for a wave at the state legislative level. Part of the reason is likely that there is simply less polling data available on individual races, so it is harder to make specific predictions. But rest assured, the national parties are very interested in these races because they will impact control of the U.S. House for the next decade because of reapportionment and redistricting.

Both the RSLC and the DLCC have created special websites focused on electing state legislators in states that will have a big impact on redistricting (http://www.redistrictingmajorityproject.com/ and www.RedistrictingFacts.com). While the press doesn’t focus on the issue, it is one of the key issues for political insiders.

These campaign organizations have targeted states that appear to have the greatest likelihood of switching and then they focus their efforts on districts within those states that appear to be swing districts. But could those efforts just be carried along with the national tide? Professor Alan Abramowitz of Emory University published an article on Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball in July which showed that state legislative races tend to follow closely the generic ballot trends for congressional races. In that article (http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/aia2010072902/) he argues that those races and control of legislative chambers can usually be predicted by the “early September” Gallup generic ballot poll.

Well it’s early September, so what do we know? This week Gallup showed the generic ballot to be tied between Democrats and Republicans. However, just last week, Republicans were shown to be up by ten points. Which number is the more accurate? Or do we take the average of the two plus next week’s poll? We will know for sure in less than 60 days.

Even if this week’s “even” poll is the most accurate, Democrats will have a hard time being heartened by it. Professor Abramowitz’ predictions show Republicans with a gain of over 300 seats and nine chambers under the “even” scenario. With a Republican six point advantage, his analysis shows a pick-up of 500 seats and 13 chambers. When he wrote the July column, he didn’t even include predictions for a generic ballot advantage for Republicans of more than six points, so if the Republican number rebounds to the high single digits, it could be a very long night in November for Democrats.

So what does this mean for state government relations professionals? Nine to thirteen new chambers means new Senate Presidents or Speakers and many new committee chairs. With so many seats changing hands, it is also likely that some key legislators in state houses that don’t switch hands will still lose their seats (or they already have in a primary). In states where one party has been in control for years, have you cultivated or ignored relationships with the minority party? If they take control, will fence-mending be necessary?

Combined with term limits in other states, it means you have your work cut out for you in rebuilding your relationship network. So, request an increase in your travel budget now for next year so you can make some additional visits to your key states and attend more Groups meetings to quickly develop those relationships for 2011.

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