Stunning Republican gains in governorships and state legislatures on Election Night will change the political map for a decade and will greatly complicate President Barack Obama's path to re-election in 2012, top Republicans tell Newsmax.
Tuesday's Democratic reversals at the state-level Tuesday were nothing short of stunning. Pre-election, Democrats controlled 26 governorships to the Republicans' 24. After the election, Democrats controlled just 15 statehouses, while Republicans controlled 28.
Post-election, Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 26 states. That's up from 15 before the election.
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Winners in six other statehouse races remain undetermined. Also, the incoming governor in Rhode Island is former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who left the Republican Party in 2007 and won his election as an independent.
Ed Gillespie, the former White House counselor to former President George W. Bush, who now serves as chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview that the GOP surge on the state level comes at a critical time due to the looming redistricting battles that will follow the 2010 Census.
"We had a huge night on the state house and state senate front," Gillespie tells Newsmax. "Along the Great Lakes, Alabama, Maine, Washington state. Probably 17 chambers so far have switched hands from Democratic to Republican.
"I think there are more that are going to come in, as there are some votes still being counted out there in those state house and state senate seats," he said. "And that's going to have a big impact on redistricting, which will have a big impact on the composition of Congress for a decade."
After census results are tabulated, House seats are added to states with significant population gains, and taken away from states without growing populations in a constitutional process known as apportionment. Perhaps more importantly, governors and state legislatures redraw the physical boundaries of the congressional districts within which candidates run. Which neighborhoods are included within each district can have a tremendous impact on whether Republicans or Democrats have the advantage.
In Gillespie's exclusive Newsmax interview, he cited the looming battle in New York state as an example.
"In New York state last night, we had a net gain of five U.S. House of Representatives," Gillespie said. "We're trying to win the New York state senate. It's going to be very, very close.
"If we can win the New York State Senate, or even tie it for that matter, those five freshman Republicans who just elected last night won't be immediately carved out of their seats through the redistricting process. So the state house and chambers are very, very important in terms of redistricting," Gillespie says.
History shows Gillespie is right about the importance of winning state-level elections in years that end in zero. After the 1990 Census, the GOP gained between 25 and 30 seats because of redistricting. Without those seats, Republicans never would have grabbed control of the House in 1994, Fox News political commentator Karl Rove has estimated.
After the 2000 Census, the pattern repeated itself. The GOP controlled many governorships and state legislatures that year when the districts were redrawn. And in the next two election cycles, an estimated 25 Democrats lost their seats, in part at least because of the altered demographics in their new districts.
Across the nation, Republicans gained well over 500 state legislative seats, according to the Republican State Leadership Committee. That dwarfs the 472-seat GOP state-level gain in the wave of 1994. Before the election, Democrats controlled 60 of the country's state legislative chambers (states generally model their legislatures after the bicameral nature of the federal House and Senate). Now, Democrats control 40 chambers, Republicans control 55, and one is evenly divided (Oregon).
Moreover, the GOP sweep was as notable for its depth as it was for its reach. Other state-level gains made Tuesday promise to give Republicans a deep bench of political prospects for years to come:
- Republicans won 16 of 30 state attorney general races, taking six of those from Democrats. The race in California is outstanding.
- In races for lieutenant governor, the GOP won 10 of 12 contests. Three of those took seats from Democrats.
- Republicans grabbed 17 of 26 secretary of state races, a net gain of six over Democrats. They include the key 2012 states of Ohio, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado.
Beyond redistricting, the major gains on the state level will make President Obama's re-election bid much more difficult. Secretary of state officials play a strategic role in elections — Democrats still blame former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's 2004 recount in the Bush-Kerry presidential race for sending George W. Bush back to the White House. And states that turn to Republican governors are more likely to vote Republican in the subsequent presidential race.
As Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, recently told Newsmax: "Of course, the governors elected this year will be governing in 2012, when we have our next presidential election. So it is a very important year."
Gillespie insists, however, that there is another reason beyond politics that the state-level landslide for Republicans matters: Those newly elected officials will have a direct impact on voters' lives.
"They're very important in terms of people's quality of life in their state," he tells Newsmax. "You know, having a Republican with the gavel for the tax writing committee in the state is just as important as having a Republican with the gavel in a tax-writing committee in Congress. Because people's state taxes don't need to go up any more than they are, in fact they should go down in most instances."
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