Instead, it’s possible Democrats end up with no new chambers, and it will be Republicans who leave 2020 with wins. Republicans picked up the New Hampshire House and Senate, giving them total control over governing in that state because they also kept the governor’s mansion. Republicans won another trifecta, as it is called when one party holds the state legislature and governorship, after their victory in the Montana’s governor race.
Arizona’s state House and state Senate are still outstanding and could be Democratic pickups. There’s a long shot chance that Democrats take the Pennsylvania House. But those are all ifs, and they are far from the only victories Democrats had hoped to be talking about right now.
These results are notable for two reasons:
1. It tracks with Democrats’ underperformance down the entire ballot. Democrat Joe Biden still has a path to win the presidency, but Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate majority are narrowing to almost nil. And Democrats will keep their majority in the House, but they may lose seats rather than win the 10 to 15 some in their party had predicted they’d gain. And they could end 2020 without picking up any state legislative chambers, or far fewer than they had expected.
2. The battle for state legislatures was historically static. You have to go back to the 1940s to find an election when so few chambers flipped parties, said Tim Storey, the executive director of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. On average, an election day brings about 10 chambers flipped. This time, it could be just two. “It’s jaw dropping to me how little change there is,” he said. “It’s almost like trench warfare. There was all this smoke and fire and stuff aimed at each other, and at the end of the day, only inches moved.”
The odds were in Democrats’ favor that they could do better, and not just because history suggests more legislative chambers were going to switch parties this November. Republicans control a majority of state chambers after investing heavily in this level of politics a decade ago. After President Trump’s 2016 win, Democrats finally started paying attention and giving money to state legislative battles. Democrats’ state legislative committee broke fundraising records this year and hoped that 2020 would bring a political realignment back in their favor.
They did not flip the state House in Texas or either chamber in North Carolina. They did not manage to flip the Minnesota state Senate despite that being one of their easiest challenges since they were only two seats away. Nor the Iowa state House.
Democrats say it’s a little too early to say 2020 was a total wipeout for them. They may well pick up state legislative seats, if not state legislative chambers. “The 2020 election is still days away from being settled,” Christina Polizzi, a DLCC spokeswoman, told The Washington Post in a statement earlier Wednesday. “We always knew this election was going to be difficult — we’re running on extremely gerrymandered maps. There are millions of votes still to be counted and we’re going to make sure every one of them is counted.”
And they did win a state Supreme Court seat in Michigan, flipping partisan control of that all-important state’s top court to Democrats.
But the door is shutting quickly on Democrats’ opportunities to pick up actual chambers. Democrats will pick up the pieces on why in the coming days and weeks. It seems immediately clear there’s a partisanship underlying these results from the state legislature on up that Democrats, especially, have not figured out how to work around.
“Voters are just so in line with their party,” Storey said. “Neither party seems willing to change right now or vote for the other side.”
Clarification: This post has been updated to better reflect how much of a priority flipping the Texas state House was for Democrats’ state legislative campaign arm.