Wednesday, October 04, 2006

State Legislative Races Outlook

By Louis Jacobson

Little has changed in the outlook for the state legislatures since the Rothenberg Political Report published its last rankings on July 7. The only ratings change is in the Alaska Senate, where allegations of corruption involving a number of politicians - including Senate President Ben Stevens, the son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) - are calling into question the GOP's grip on the chamber. Previously classified as Safe Republican, this seat now moves to Likely Republican. That still falls short of the competitive category (which is reserved for Toss-Up and Lean seats), but depending on how the investigation plays out, it would be a mistake to rule out a party switch, even in as staunchly a Republican state as Alaska. The chamber's current partisan breakdown is twelve Republicans, eight Democrats.

Democrats feel somewhat stronger than they did in early July about their prospects in Colorado, where gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter is surging; the Indiana House, where poor approval ratings for Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) are dragging down GOP legislators; Michigan; Montana and the Ohio House. But none of these shifts is sufficient to merit a change in classification yet. Republicans, for their part, feel stronger about their chances in the Alabama Senate, among other states. But no other states merit a change in call yet.

[UPDATE- October 12, 2006- WEST VIRGINIA]

The Rothenberg Political Report is shifting its call for one statelegislative chamber. The West Virginia state House, currently with 68 Democrats and 32 Republicans, will now shift from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic. That's still outside the range of "competitive," but the change suggests that the Republican minority could gain seats this fall.

The shift is being driven by a significant investment of money and organizational resources by Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy, a major coal and energy company in the state. Blankenship is targeting the state House. WestVirginia is a historically Democratic state, especially where the state legislature is concerned, and the Democratic edge in the state House appears too wide to make a one-year takeover likely. However, Blankenship--astaunchly pro-business conservative and a bete noire of state Democrats, trial lawyers and labor unions--has deep pockets and has been a player in past political wars, sinking significant money into state Supreme Court races.

The state has been trending Republican on the national level, suggesting that the GOP, despite its institutional weaknesses locally, is gaining ground in the state. The Democrats' best asset right now is Gov. JoeManchin, who is extremely popular. But it's not clear how much he'll be willing to spend from his warchest to bolster the legislature this year. (Manchin is not up for reelection again until 2008.) So, don't expect the chamber to flip control, but a GOP gain of seats, even in what's turning into a generally Democratic year elsewhere, looks possible.

[UPDATE- October 20, 2006- OHIO]

The Rothenberg Political Report is shifting its call for the Ohio state House from Likely Republican to Lean Republican and its call for the Ohio state Senate from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. While the long-dominant GOP is still favored to keep control of both chambers, albeit by narrower margins, the simmering scandal environment for the Ohio GOP has metastasized in recent weeks, and it's no longer guaranteed that the party's 20-plus-seat margin in the House will be enough to keep control past Election Day. Close observers of the Ohio political scene are split on whether GOP control is truly endangered -- some insist that the Democrats won't be able to take over the House this cycle -- but enough Republicans tell us that the anti-Republican sentiment is so strong that anything is possible, so we've decided to shift the call.

By reclassifying the Ohio House as Lean Republican, the chamber becomes the
21st to be deemed competitive by the Report. Here is the full list:

Democratic-held Toss-Ups (6)
Colorado House
Colorado Senate
Maine House
Maine Senate
North Carolina House
Oklahoma Senate

Republican-held Toss-Ups (3)
Indiana House
Iowa House
Minnesota House

Tied Toss-Ups (2)
Iowa Senate
Montana House

Democratic-held Lean D (4)
Montana Senate
Tennessee House
Washington House
Washington Senate

Republican-held Lean R (6)
Nevada Senate
Ohio House
Oregon House
Pennsylvania House
Tennessee Senate
Wisconsin Senate