Politics

Democrats are dominating state-level races

The party has gained nine ‘trifectas’ since 2016

Democrats flipped Virginia’s House and Senate on Nov. 5, giving the party a trifecta — control of both state legislative chambers and the governorship — for the first time since 1993.

Farther west, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear’s win over incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin meant Republicans will lose their trifecta in the state. The following week, Gov. John Bel Edwards was reelected in Louisiana, stopping Republicans from gaining a new trifecta there.

These results add to a string of Democratic state-level victories since 2016.

How state government control has changed

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

Post-Trump 2018

Democratic wave

14

15

20

14

14

21

16

8

25

2016

19

6

24

20

7

22

19

7

23

13

13

23

2012

13

12

24

11

15

23

18

11

20

24

16

9

2008

23

17

9

25

14

10

15

24

10

29

8

12

2004

29

8

12

29

8

12

29

8

12

9

29

11

2000

28

8

13

9

25

15

26

9

14

6

31

12

1996

6

31

12

28

6

15

8

26

15

29

16

4

1992

18

28

3

15

31

3

16

30

3

16

29

4

1988

15

30

4

15

29

5

28

15

6

17

28

4

1984

17

28

4

21

24

4

24

21

4

17

25

7

1980

17

25

7

19

26

4

20

25

4

27

22

Republican-controlled

Divided

Democratic-controlled

The Republican revolution

Tea party wave

4

4

7

7

4

4

4

4

6

5

4

4

3

3

3

4

15

15

12

12

14

15

13

11

12

12

12

12

10

10

9

9

20

23

24

23

23

22

24

25

21

20

22

30

31

28

25

26

21

21

28

28

30

29

29

29

28

25

25

23

24

24

25

29

31

31

29

29

29

29

28

26

26

28

25

18

14

14

20

27

15

13

19

13

19

16

24

24

20

19

18

17

17

17

17

17

16

16

16

16

15

15

15

15

15

15

14

14

13

12

11

11

9

9

9

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

7

7

6

6

6

6

1980

1984

1988

1992

1996

2000

2004

2008

2012

2016

Post-Trump

Democratic wave

Democratic

wave in 2006

Republican-controlled

Divided

Democratic-controlled

The Republican revolution

Tea party wave

20

4

4

7

7

4

4

4

4

6

5

4

4

3

3

3

4

15

15

12

12

14

15

13

11

12

12

12

12

10

10

9

9

20

23

24

23

23

22

24

25

21

22

30

31

28

25

26

21

21

28

28

30

29

29

29

28

25

25

23

24

24

25

29

31

31

29

29

29

29

28

26

26

28

25

18

14

14

20

27

15

13

19

13

19

16

24

24

20

19

18

17

17

17

17

17

16

16

16

16

15

15

15

15

15

15

14

14

13

12

11

11

9

9

9

8

8

8

8

8

8

8

7

7

6

6

6

6

1980

1984

1988

1992

1996

2000

2004

2008

2012

2016

Post-Trump

Democratic wave

Democratic

wave in 2006

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

Post-Trump 2018

Democratic wave

14

15

20

14

14

21

16

8

25

2016

19

6

24

20

7

22

7

19

23

13

13

23

2012

13

12

24

15

11

23

11

18

20

24

16

9

2008

23

17

9

14

25

10

15

24

10

8

29

12

2004

8

29

12

29

8

12

29

8

12

29

9

11

2000

8

28

13

9

25

15

9

26

14

31

6

12

1996

31

6

12

28

6

15

8

26

15

29

16

4

1992

18

28

3

15

31

3

16

30

3

29

16

4

1988

30

15

4

15

29

5

15

28

6

17

28

4

1984

17

28

4

24

21

4

24

21

4

25

17

7

1980

17

25

4

19

7

26

20

4

25

27

22

Nebraska was excluded because of its unicameral, bipartisan state legislature.

Most states had divided governments historically, but unprecedented gains by Republicans in the 2010 elections gave them complete control of the government in nearly half of all states. This swept in an era of budget cuts, tougher abortion restrictions and loosening gun laws. The timing of the wave allowed the party to redraw state district lines, helping them maintain legislative control in tougher election years.

The low point for Democrats came after the 2016 elections, when they held onto full control of just six state governments: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon and Rhode Island. The following summer, the governor of West Virginia switched parties, giving Republicans a new trifecta in the state.

Starting with the 2017 general election, however, Democrats have been chipping away at GOP power.

Current control of state governments

Divided

Democratic-control

Republican-control

WA

NH

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

WI

ID

NY

SD

RI

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

NV

OH

IL

IN

DE

UT

CA

WV

CO

VA

MD

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

AK

LA

TX

FL

HI

Where Democrats have gained a trifecta or

broken a Republican trifecta since 2016

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

NH

WA

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

ID

WI

SD

RI

NY

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

NV

OH

IN

IL

DE

UT

WV

CA

CO

VA

MD

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

AK

LA

TX

FL

HI

Where Democrats have gained a trifecta or

broken a Republican trifecta since 2016

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

NH

WA

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

NV

OH

IN

DE

UT

WV

IL

CA

CO

MD

KS

VA

MO

KY

DC

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

LA

AK

TX

FL

HI

Where Democrats have gained a trifecta or

broken a Republican trifecta since 2016

Republican-controlled

Divided

Democratic-controlled

NH

WA

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

OH

NV

IN

IL

DE

UT

WV

CA

CO

VA

MD

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

LA

AK

TX

FL

HI

Where Democrats have gained a trifecta or broken a Republican trifecta since 2016

Nebraska has a unicameral, bipartisan state legislature.

The Democratic gains in 2018 had an immediate impact. Nevada, Maine and Illinois passed laws easing abortion access. Colorado passed new oil and gas regulations, while New Mexico instituted background checks for most firearm sales.

[Tell us how you're thinking about the presidential election]

Democrats broke Republican trifectas in Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan by winning governorships, and those new governors vetoed abortion restrictions and parts of Republican-backed tax bills.

Trifectas that could change in 2020

Divided

Democratic-control

Republican-control

NH

ME

MT

MN

PA

IA

DE

WV

CO

NC

AZ

TX

FL

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

NH

WA

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

OH

NV

IN

IL

DE

UT

CA

WV

CO

VA

MD

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

LA

AK

TX

FL

HI

Democratic-controlled

Republican-controlled

Divided

NH

WA

VT

ME

MT

ND

MN

OR

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

MI

WY

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

OH

NV

IN

IL

DE

UT

WV

CA

CO

VA

MD

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

AZ

OK

AR

NM

SC

GA

AL

MS

LA

AK

TX

FL

HI

Republicans still have complete control of 20 state governments, compared to just 15 for Democrats. But in 2020, competitive elections mean that trifectas could be made or broken in 13 states.

circle atop grey circle grey circle grey circle with hash
Could be
competitive
Unlikely to
change
No race

Where Democrats could gain trifectas

House Senate Governor
W Minnesota blue circle blue circle blue circle
l Pennsylvania blue circle blue circle blue circle

Democrats only need to flip two seats to take control of Minnesota's State Senate. If they can also protect their more sizable advantage in the house, they'll take full control of the state's government. Both Pennsylvania chambers are also up for grabs. Neither state has a gubernatorial election in 2020.

Where Democrats could break trifectas

House Senate Governor
D Arizona blue circle blue circle blue circle
I Florida blue circle blue circle blue circle
L Iowa blue circle blue circle blue circle
q Texas blue circle blue circle blue circle
w West Virginia blue circle blue circle blue circle

Texas has been under Republican control since 2003, but Democrats need to flip just nine of the 150 house seats to win the chamber. The first opportunity will come in a closely watched special election to fill a vacancy in a former Republican-held state House seat. Democrats are also hoping to capitalize on recent voting trends in Arizona, which elected a Democratic senator in 2018, and Iowa, where Democrats now control three out of four U.S. House seats.

Where Republicans could gain trifectas

House Senate Governor
Z Montana blue circle blue circle blue circle

Montana’s gubernatorial race is an open seat as incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock (D) faces his term-limit. There are multiple candidates on each side, including Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D) and the state’s at-large congressman Greg Gianforte (R).

Where Republicans could break trifectas

House Senate Governor
F Colorado blue circle blue circle blue circle
H Delaware blue circle blue circle blue circle
U Maine blue circle blue circle blue circle

Competitive state Senate races in Colorado, Delaware and Maine give Republicans the opportunity to break Democratic control. Delaware has long been a Democratic hold, but the party only gained trifectas in Colorado and Maine in 2018, when they secured both state senates and the Maine governorship.

Where trifectas are up for grabs

House Senate Governor
d New Hampshire blue circle blue circle blue circle
a North Carolina blue circle blue circle blue circle

New Hampshire and North Carolina are both divided, but competitive races across the entire state government mean either party could gain control. Both states are also competitive in the presidential race, so residents can expect a very busy election year.

Ashlyn Still

Ashlyn Still is a graphics reporter on the elections team.

Kate Rabinowitz

Kate Rabinowitz is a graphics reporter at The Washington Post. She previously worked at Propublica. She joined The Post in 2018.

About this story

State legislature and gubernatorial data comes from Carl Klarner and Ballotpedia.

Originally published Nov. 12, 2019.

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