GOPAC’s Frank Donatelli and David Avella discuss the Republican prospects for legislative gains in several states.
C&E: The GOP has a chance this year to make gains in state legislative races; that’s accepted. What about states like Texas with an outside chance that Democrats could make gains in legislatures and in state houses?
Donatelli: I think, across the board, the opportunity is there for Republicans. The big limitation right now is nothing more than financial. I see gains in all parts of the country right now if Republicans can run good campaigns. As far as Texas, there are close margins in the House and some strong Democratic challengers, but I think there are even stronger Republican challengers. More Republicans filed in House races than Democrats, and we are challenging more incumbents than [Democrats]. We have at least 10 strong challenges. It will be a battle, but I am confident we will pick up seats in the Texas House.
Avella: If you look at the recent analysis by Governing.com, Louis Jacobson did a piece on legislative chambers listing the best places to make gains by each party. They ranked 25 legislative chambers as being in play, 21 are currently held by Democrats. Clearly we are on offense. In fact, many believed that Texas was a chamber where Democrats believed that they had a chance to pick up seats, now most analysis believes that the GOP has a chance to pick up 8 to 10 seats in the Teas House. If you look at playing field, Democrats are on defense in 21 [states], Republicans have to hold 4 – the Tennessee House and Senate, the Alaska House and the Montana Senate. I don’t know of any analysis that thinks that there is a chance for Democrats to take the House and Senate in those states today. In North Carolina, the [Republican] legislative caucus can sit down and show you numbers that point to how they can take the House. In Alabama, which Republicans haven’t held since Reconstruction, they can show you a very clear path to victory.
C&E: Of the key chambers in play, Republicans are expected to win control of the House in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania and possibly Washington and the state Senate in Wisconsin.
Avella: Kevin Carns, the Executive Director of the Washington State House Republican Organizational Committee, went through the districts with me and showed me the ratio of open seats to venerable incumbents. If you look at their numbers in the primary, we could flip the Washington House. There is a path to victory where the GOP could take Washington.
Donatelli: If Republicans make major gains in all the chambers, it is possible I would add Michigan and North Carolina to that list. There are opportunities all over the country. What it means for redistricting, [the Republicans] will redraw the legislative and congressional lines. There will be judicial challenges but, let’s face it; you’d rather it be you redrawing the map than the other guy.
C&E: If Republicans get the opportunity to draw congressional and legislative boundary lines, which states will be the most significantly redefined?
Avella: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas. If Republicans were just given fair district, not gerrymandered snake-districts, we can be competitive. We don’t have to do what the Democrats have traditionally done.
Donatelli: Whoever draws the lines has a big advantage. I’d rather be redrawing the lines than not. I think that is a byproduct of having a good election, so now the focus is on November 2nd.
C&E: Larry Sabato now predicts chance for GOP to gain 300-500 legislative seats. The Republican Governors Association has twice the cash on hand that the Democratic Governors Association does. Many factors are lining up for Republicans.
Donatelli: Democrats are on defense big time and we are on offense. Virtually all the seats in play are Democratic held seats. Their administration is very unpopular and their policies have not worked. The public is looking for a new direction and that means voting Republican this time. It is a very good environment to make major gains.
C&E: These redistricting proposals usually get challenged in the courts, often on the “one person, one vote” principle in the Voting Rights Act. How do you best ensure that your redistricting methods will hold up?
Avella: Good lawyers and legislators will have to stay within the law when it comes to the Voting Rights Act. Ultimately, it will get drawn into the courts.
C&E: States that are expected to lose seats like Iowa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan have now or are likely to have Republican governors. Will we see more GOP friendly districts in these states?
Donatelli: The only state that is going to gain population after the redistricting in 2010 that voted for Kerry is Oregon. Every state that is going to gain population voted for Bush in 2004. Just on the macro level, the so-called “red-leaning states” are going to become stronger based on redistricting.
C&E: Let’s go over some of the most interesting states that the Republicans view as places to make strategic gains. Starting with Texas:
Donatelli: The Texas House is very close. Right now we are confident that we will gain in the House.
Avella: From everything we are hearing on the ground, we have potential to pick up 8 to 10 seats. It’ not a matter of who will control [the state government], its how big majority will be… As we sit here on September 9th, 2010.
Avella: In this environment, I just don’t see a state like Florida not voting Republican. It’s a race where I would give Rubio the Senate and we will pick up two or three congressional seats. If that trend is happening at the top of the ticket, there is no reason to believe we won’t hold governorship.
Donatelli: [Republicans’] legislative majority is pretty strong. We are very confident that we will keep our majority, even if there is a governor change there, and I don’t think there will be. If the Democrat wins, though, it will make it more challenging.
Avella: You want to talk about a good environment? Forget Texas. Portman and Kasich are starting to run away with this thing. The question now is can we might take the House. We could go taking the whole state government.
Donatelli: In Ohio, we have a good shot in the House. Kasich is running a strong campaign. There is a judicial component there too – they have an independent board that has a roll in redistricting also.
Donatelli: I feel very good about prospects in Pennsylvania. Corbett is a good candidate; he is a good fit for Pennsylvania. We will keep the Senate and the House looks very promising. We need 3 or 4 gains, but we have three times as many strong challengers as we need. There is a strong hope to win everything.
Avella: Another state, just like Ohio, where Corbett’s lead continues to grow and we’re only down two in the House. We could go from having just the Senate to having the whole state government go to the GOP.
C&E: New York:
Donatelli: In New York we’re just looking for a foothold. The good news is we only need 2 to get a majority in the Senate. There are about 4 potentially competitive races, so we are hopeful there. Regardless, they will do well congressionally in New York. The districts are not good for us right now, even without the Senate. At least, I don’t know how it could be any worse.
Avella: We have our work cut out for us in New York. Republicans are down two in the New York Senate. Hopefully, we can close the gap some in the House. We, as Republicans, have to be focused. If we are really looking at big states where we are in trouble, New York has to be at the top of the list of places we try to pick up [seats].
Avella: [Michigan is in the] same category as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Snyder has a sizeable lead in the race for Governor. The Senate will not be lost. There is talk that we could pick up the House. The legislative caucus has a path to pick up the house here too. That’s the 3rd big state where we will have not just one big chamber, but all three branches.
Donatelli: The Republican [brand] is a strong winner in Michigan now. The Senate is Republican and it will stay that way. The House is a big margin [to take control], but it is not out of the question. A strong closing campaign could put the House in play.
Donatelli: That is a state that could potentially flip. The winner of GOP primary [on September 14th] will be a strong candidate. The gains needed in the House and the Senate are 4 and 3 respectively. There is a very high possibility that we could actually win both chambers in Wisconsin. That is one state where we are very active.
Avella: There is one where we have zero. No governor, Assembly or Senate. I would offer that this state is our most prime opportunity to take a state that is all Democrat and make it all Republican.
C&E: Any final thoughts?
Avella: No team won a game by being a 14-point favorite. We have to get the message to voters, turn out their supporters in the next 50-odd days. But if we do those two things, it will be a historic night for Republicans. Sabato may be right on the mark with 300 – 500 [legislative pickups for Republicans].
Donatelli: The issues that resonate at state level are same at federal level. People are concerned about economy and unemployment, and they are looking for a new direction. Nothing takes primacy over the economy, but deficits, taxes, a bloated public sector and high unemployment are of concern at the state level too.
GOPAC CHAIRMAN FRANK DONATELLIChairman Frank Donatelli was asked by Senator John McCain to serve as the Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential elections. His previous appointments have included serving as an Assistant to President Reagan for Political and Intergovernmental Affairs and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison at the White House. Mr. Donatelli served on White House Chief of Staff James Baker’s team that negotiated the 1984 presidential debates, a role he reprised as a Senior Advisor to Bob Dole in 1996. He was also a Regional Political Director for Ronald Reagan and was active in the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush.
DAVID AVELLADavid A. Avella is currently serving as the Executive Director of GOPAC, the Republican Party's premier education and training organization and is the Managing Partner of Donatelli Avella, Inc., a national political communications firm. Mr. Avella has been a close advisor to Chairman Michael Steele, working with him since 2001. Mr. Avella has created communications and advised campaigns and clients throughout the country. As a Senior Advisor to GOPAC and a former faculty member for the Republican National Committee's Nuts and Bolts Seminars, Avella has trained thousands of candidates and political operatives on running successful political campaigns. Through his work as a political consultant and operative, Avella also speaks at political conferences across the country.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org