From Maine to Montana, voters put state legislatures increasingly under Republican control this week, giving conservatives new sway not only over lawmaking, but also over a remapping of congressional districts.
The redistricting is a once-a-decade requirement, following the US Census tally of state populations. As state governments set new district boundaries, the party in power can make it more likely that its own candidates will win seats, affecting the congressional balance of power for years to come.
In some prominent "swing" states, where power can ebb and flow between the parties, Republicans now hold the upper hand. Thanks to the tidal shift in Tuesday's vote, they will now control both the governorship and both chambers of the legislature in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. All those states saw at least one branch of the legislature shift to Republican control.
“2010 will go down as a defining political election that will shape the national political landscape for at least the next 10 years,” said Tim Storey, elections specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, in a statement released after the election. The Republican Party "finds itself now in the best position for both congressional and state legislative line drawing than it has enjoyed in the modern era of redistricting.”
Some 53 percent of state legislative seats will be held by the GOP, the most since 1928.
Only one prominent state-level shift went in Democrats' favor: California will now have Jerry Brown (D) as governor, and Golden State voters kept the Legislature in the "blue" column (Democratic) as well.
Many legislatures did not change hands. Democrats will retain control in at least 16 states, Republicans will wield power in at least 25, and control will be split in at least five. In a few states, control of a legislative chamber is still up in the air.
Although some newly Republican legislatures had been under divided control, six states saw a major upset in which Democrats lost both chambers: Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
Regionally, the most prominent move toward the political right came in the Midwest. Democrats retained clout in the Northeast and much of the Southwest (including Nevada and New Mexico), while Republicans added to their strength in the South.
In addition to their new leverage on redistricting, Republicans are gaining power at a time when states are playing an important role in American life on other fronts as well.
States are wrestling with how to reposition their fiscal affairs as they face projected budget gaps. And federal health-care reform calls on states to play a role, such as by setting up "exchanges" for the public to purchase medical insurance.
Some Republicans see their new power at the state level as a perch from which to fight the Obama-backed reforms.