The 2015 election is over. (You may not have known it was even happening.) And it proved one thing: Republicans have an absolute stranglehold on governorships and state legislatures all across the country.
* With Matt Bevin's win in Kentucky on Tuesday night, Republicans now hold 32 of the nation's governorships — 64 percent of all the governors mansions in the country. (One race, in Louisiana, won't be decided until next month. Democrats believe they have a good chance of winning that race against now-Sen. David Vitter.)
* Democrats' failure to take over the Virginia state Senate means that Republicans still hold total control of 30 of the country's 50 state legislatures (60 percent) and have total or split control of 38 of the 50 (76 percent.)
That dominance — and what it means to the policy and political calculations and prospects for both parties at the national level — is the single most overlooked and underappreciated story line of President Obama's time in office. Since 2009, Republicans have made massive and unprecedented gains at the state level, gains that played a central role in, among other things, handing control of the U.S. House back to the GOP in the 2010 election.
This chart via GOP lobbyist Bruce Mehlman tells that story in stark terms (although it doesn't include updated results after Tuesday's vote):
It's hard to overstate how important those GOP gains — and the consolidation of them we've seen in the last few years — are to the relative fates of the two parties. While the story at the national level suggests a Republican Party that is growing increasingly white, old and out of step with the country on social issues, the narrative at the local level is very different. Republicans are prospering at the state level in ways that suggest that the party's messaging is far from broken.
There are other, more pragmatic effects of the GOP dominance in governor's races and state legislatures, too. Aside from giving the party a major leg up in the decennial redrawing of congressional lines, which has led to a Republican House majority not only today but likely through at least 2020, the GOP's dominance gives the party fertile ground to incubate policy that makes its way to the national level and to cultivate the future stars of the national party from the ground up.
While the demographic and electoral challenges that Republicans must confront at the national level are very real, the idea, pushed in some circles, that those struggles are leading indicators of a dying party is absolutely wrong. In fact, at the state and local level the Republican Party is considerably more robust than its Democratic counterpart.
Focus on the presidential race exclusively if you will. But remember that the long-term health of a party is about much more than simply the man or woman at the top of the ticket.