LEGISLATURES CHANGE HANDS

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Republicans have chipped away at Democratic dominance of the nation's state legislatures.

Democrats went into Tuesday's election with majorities in 70 of the nation's 99 legislative chambers. The GOP yesterday appeared headed toward a net gain of five chambers under its control, with Democrats poised for a net decline of four states in which they control both houses.

One chamber that will change control in January is the Illinois Senate, where the GOP was helped by redistricting. But a Republican bid to make even bigger history in Florida appeared to fall short as the Senate headed for a 20-20 split, a GOP gain of one seat. The chamber could have become the first Republican-controlled legislative body in the South since Reconstruction.

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Incumbents of both parties fared well nationwide. As in congressional races, the "throw the bums out" sentiment seemed to have done most of its damage before the general election. Of incumbents on Tuesday's ballot, 92 percent were winning.

Legislative turnover before the general election had helped record numbers of women and minorities get onto Tuesday's ballot, mirroring a trend in congressional races. Redistricting in compliance with the strengthened Voting Rights Act all but ensured that more minorities would win.

Currently, 18 percent of state lawmakers are women, 6 percent are black, and 2 percent Hispanic.

Prior to the election, Democrats controlled both houses in 29 states, the GOP in six, and 14 states were split. Nebraska's legislature is unicameral and nominally nonpartisan.

A record 31 states had divided government, with different parties controlling the governor's office and both legislative chambers. That number seemed to be diminishing.

At least three states with divided government appeared likely to become solidly Democratic come January.

Democrats took the governors' seats from the GOP in Missouri and North Carolina and appeared to be keeping their lock on both legislative chambers. Washington State's Senate tipped from the GOP to Democrats. Republicans won legislative control in Kansas and appeared likely to gain it in Arizona and Idaho; all three states currently have split control.

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