Let's start off by stipulating that we won't talk about a majority of state legislatures here ... not because they aren't interesting, but because both of their legislative chambers are so thoroughly controlled by one party or the other that control in 2014 is a foregone conclusion. That's mostly the dark red and dark blue states, but it does include a few swing states, like Florida and Ohio, where a combination of GOP-drawn maps, Democratic self-segregation into the major cities, and institutional neglect, have allowed the Republicans to build up large majorities.
Those states that we won't discuss are Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. (If you feel there's something important going on in any of these states' legislative elections this year, please chime in in the comments section.) In addition, there's no reason to talk about Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, or Virginia, as those states elect their legislatures in odd-numbered years.
We've got plenty of resources handy, if you want to do learn more about the neglected states above, or if you want to dig even deeper in the ones that we will cover below:
Handicapping of how competitive these races are, from Governing's Louis Jacobson and the Atlas Project's Carolyn Fiddler.
A mostly fundamentals-based quantitative model from professor Carl Klarner that predicts a number of Republican pickups.
A roundup from community member CF of Aus of all the other Daily Kos Elections community diaries about state legislatures.
The Daily Kos Elections Presidential results by legislative district project, which lets you see how red or blue all the LDs in almost all of the states are, and look for mismatched members.
Ballotpedia's state legislatures portal, which lets you look at any state in even greater detail.
: For many years, Alaska's state Senate had an unusual coalition arrangement where Democrats plus moderate Republicans controlled the Senate. Post-redistricting, there were enough GOP gains for them to take full control of the Senate, currently 13-7. With Alaska looking poised to dislodge its Republican governor this year, in favor of a hybrid independent/Dem ticket, that might also help shake loose a few Republican state Senators this year ... probably not enough to change the balance overall, but maybe enough to cause the coalition to resurface.
ARIZONA: The Democrats aren't that far back in the Arizona state Senate, currently down only 17-13. The Democrats are already overperforming a bit here, though, so if they're going to make that last push this year, it's going to have to come through some pretty solidly red districts.
ARKANSAS: While the Republicans have a solid edge in the state Senate (22-13), they don't in the state House (51-48 plus one Green). Given that the Republicans look likely to pick up both the Senate and gubernatorial seats in Arkansas this year, it may not be the year for Arkansas Dems to gain back a couple state House seats, but it's definitely considered competitive, and the fact that both of the open U.S. House seats are competitive this year shows that the Senate/gubernatorial races may not be generating GOP coattails.
CALIFORNIA: California's a special case; the Democrats are in absolutely no danger of losing their majorities here (28-12 in the Senate, 55-25 in the Assembly). What they're trying to protect is their supermajorities, which isn't certain, but is important for purposes of keeping Republican fingerprints off the state's budgets. Orange County is the site of two of the most pivotal races: the open seat SD-34 and AD-65, where freshman Dem Sharon Quirk-Silva is trying for re-election. Jeff Singer previews the most important races in the Golden State.
COLORADO: Colorado features one of the most worrisome Democratic holds in the nation in the state Senate, where the Dems have only an 18-17 edge after losing the two recalls last year. (The House, where Dems are up 37-28, looks better.) The good news is that the Democrats have two offensive opportunities in Dem-leaning districts against the two GOP recall winners, with presumably better turnout than the special recall elections. In addition, in two defensive races, the GOP didn't get the establishment candidates they'd hoped for out of the primaries, but instead got hardcore pro-gun types. The bad news is, polling of the generic legislative ballot doesn't look good for the Dems, their top-of-the-ticket candidates (John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall) are struggling, and SD-16 still looks like trouble for them.
IOWA: Iowa, like Colorado, features only a narrow Dem edge in the state Senate (26-24) and trouble at the top of the ticket (a knife's edge in the U.S. Senate race and an easy gubernatorial victory for the GOP, which means they'd have the Lt. Governor's tie-breaking vote). Two Dem-held (but with GOP registration edges) seats in rural Fort Dodge and Mason City (SD-05 and SD-27) seem particularly troublesome for the Democrats. This one is particularly important, since a GOP pickup would be the last brick in a Republican trifecta, since they already control the state House 53-47.
KENTUCKY: The Democrats still hold the state House in this presidentially-red but ancestrally-Dem state, 54-46. That was critical in terms of having the leverage to create the KyNect exchange her; interestingly, the big issue for next year may be whether a GOP legislative majority (they already control the Senate) can change state law to allow Rand Paul to run for President and Senate at the same time in 2016. A competitive Senate race here might keep the Republicans from building up the necessary momentum, though.
MAINE: You wouldn't think this light-blue state would be in much danger, but local Dems seem nervous about holding both chambers (they control the Senate 19-15 and the House 89-58). Those seem like big-enough edges to me, but remember that the legislature flipped to the GOP after 2010, and like neighboring New Hampshire, Maine's legislature seems to follow the overall weather. Community member Proud New Englander has further details.
MICHIGAN: The state Senate is pretty solidly GOP (26-12 in the GOP's favor), but the state House, which the Dems held in the 2000s, could potentially flip back (the GOP has a 59-51 edge, with most of the overage coming in districts that backed Barack Obama in '12). That'd require some pretty big top-of-the-ticket coattails, but Gary Peters is dominating the U.S. Senate race and Mark Schauer is keeping the gubernatorial race a dead heat, so that might actually work.
MINNESOTA: The state Senate isn't up this year, but the state House is causing some worries even though the Senate and gubernatorial races are going well for the Democrats this year. The Dems control the House 73-61, but hotly-contested swing-district races make up the balance. Community member OGGoldy has more.
NEVADA: I'm going to have to call the Nevada state Senate the likeliest chamber to flip from the Democrats to the Republicans this year. The Democrats hold the Senate 11-10, but that's predicated on the survival of Justin Jones, first elected by only a narrow margin against presidential-level turnout in 2012. And Democratic turnout in early voting has been abysmal so far, to the extent that party poohbahs are worried about U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford; if Horsford is in trouble, that means Jones is long-gone. Luckily, the other Dem seats up this year are very blue so the damage might be confined to SD-09, allowing the Dems to bounce back in '16.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: New Hampshire has the nation's largest legislative body, the 400-person state House, and it routinely shifts by dozens or even hundreds of seats from election to election. Louis Jacobson currently lists this chamber as "Lean R" despite the fact that the Dems currently control it 220-179! I have to file it under "who the heck knows," but given its historic volatility, a GOP pickup certainly seems plausible. Meanwhile, the Senate is as small as the House is large; the GOP controls it 13-11, but it would probably take a better year than this for the Dems to eke out that small gain.
NEW MEXICO: The state House here could be a sleeper race; it's been under Democratic control for a long time, but their edge is only 37-33, and Republican governor Susana Martinez is putting up a large lead in her re-election effort, which could generate some coattails. At any rate, even if the GOP narrowly gains control, the Dems control the Senate which isn't up at all this year, so no trifecta for the GOP.
NEW YORK: The Democrats have a numeric majority in the state Senate in New York, though recent Siena polls of a few key races show they're at risk of losing even their nominal advantage. Meanwhile, the real control is through a coalition of Republicans and "Independent Democrats." Control of the state Senate has more to do with the egos of the renegade Democrats, and whether Andrew Cuomo leans on them to get back in line or not, than it does with the actual outcome of the races on November 4, though. (The state Assembly is safely Democratic.)
NORTH CAROLINA: The Republicans, thanks to an effective gerrymander, have sizable edges in both chambers (33-17 in the Senate and 77-43 in the House). They've screwed up badly enough with their agenda in the last two years that Democratic gains seem very likely; the question is how big those gains are, and given the nature of the year, it's not likely they'll be able to get back to the break-even point.
OREGON: The Democrats in the Oregon Senate have only a 16-14 edge, but unlike many of these other close chambers, they're actually positioned to gain some ground. Two GOP-held seats—especially SD-08, a 59 percent Obama district where the popular moderate Republican resigned and a more conservative GOPer was appointed to replace him—are likelier to flip to the Dems than the Dems' one endangered seat, SD-03, is likely to flip. Community member James Allen has more.
PENNSYLVANIA: Republican incumbent governor Tom Corbett seems to be going down in flames, but the question is whether challenger Tom Wolf can generate the coattails for the Dems to retake either chamber; the GOP holds the Senate 27-23 and the House 111-92. The path is very rocky in the Senate, though, with two ancestrally-Dem western Pennsylvania seats presenting tough holds and only open seat in Philadelphia's suburbs, SD-26, looking like it presents an opportunity. (See Jeff Singer's preview for more.) Despite the wider gap, the state House, which is subject to a lot of churn, may actually present a better opportunity for the Democrats.
WASHINGTON: Washington is a less complicated version of New York, where a duo of moderate Democrats joined up with the Republicans to hijack control of the state Senate despite a numeric 25-24 advantage for the Dems. The good news is that the ringleader, Rodney Tom, is retiring, and SD-48 (a 62 percent Obama district) is looking like a clear pickup for a progressive Democrat, Cyrus Habib. To regain true Democratic control, though, the Dems would need to either get the other turncoat Dem, Tim Sheldon to either change his allegiance or lose his election (neither of which seems likely), or else pick up one other seat. There are a few pickup possibilities, but likelier than any of those, however, is the Dems losing another seat, the 59 percent Obama SD-30, an open seat where a well-liked former Democratic state Rep., Mark Miloscia, is now running as a Republican. So the status quo is likelier than not to remain. The state House is 55-43 in Dem hands, but a few losses seem likely, which might move things close enough to the point where moderate Dems in the House might consider a similar arrangement.
WEST VIRGINIA: The state legislature in West Virginia has remained stubbornly Democratic even as the congressional delegation has slowly shifted over to the Republicans. Half of that may end this year, though, with the Dems' 53-47 edge in the state House imperiled. Meanwhile, the state Senate is in no danger this year, with a 24-10 Dem advantage, though it's really a question of how much longer the Dems can run out the clock in this rapidly reddening state.
WISCONSIN: The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate has a tantalizingly close GOP edge of 17-15, and there are two Republican open seats in competitive districts, including the 57 percent Obama SD-17 where moderate Dale Schultz is retiring. (Interestingly, community member WisJohn thinks the other open seat, the 49 percent Obama SD-19, may present a better pickup opportunity.) A gain of both those seats still wouldn't clinch control of the state Senate for the Dems, though, because there's also a vacant seat in dark-red SD-11 that'll get filled by a Republican, and Dem John Lehman's retirement in SD-21, which is 44 percent Obama. The Republicans have a much safer 60-39 advantage in the Assembly; community member Blue Sasha looks at the Dem possibilities in the lower chamber.
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