As 2010 comes to a close, and the New Year dawns, a set of off-year legislative candidates are preparing for their campaigns. Legislative elections will be held next year in Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey. In each of these states, Democrats are vulnerable. In 2009, Republicans made state legislative gains in New Jersey and Virginia, albeit not on the groundbreaking scale of the 2010 elections. Will the trend of favorable results for Republicans continue into 2011, or has most of the damage to Democrats already been done?
Democrats control both legislative houses in Louisiana, Mississippi and New Jersey. Republicans control the state House in Virginia by a margin of twenty seats, but they are three seats down in the Senate. All four states saw gains for Republicans in 2010, especially in the South, where the GOP flipped two U.S. House seats in Mississippi and three in Virginia.
Highly publicized gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey drove up Republican turnout in 2009. It is unclear if legislative elections will bring out Republican voters at similar levels in 2011. This time, however, both Louisiana and Mississippi will elect governors along with their state representatives, which will mean higher turnout for races in those states. Republicans are favored to win both governors’ races, and no Democrats have declared their intention to run in either state.
To confound matters further for Southern Democrats, Mississippi and Louisiana (along with Georgia and Texas) have all witnessed a flight of Democratic lawmakers changing their affiliation to Republican following the November elections. As of today, Republicans would need to gain three seats in the Louisiana Senate to gain control and one in the House. In Mississippi, Republicans need just two seats to take control of the Senate, though the House appears unattainable, with Democrats maintaining a twenty-four seat edge.
Republicans face even steeper odds in New Jersey, which remains a largely blue state. Democrats hold the Senate by six seats and the House by fourteen. In 2009, New Jersey Democratic incumbents fared relatively well—even in scandal-plagued Hudson County where both Assembly representatives (one of whom was under indictment) were returned to office. In 2009 Republicans gained six seats in the Virginia state House, a body they already controlled.
Of course, how legislative elections in all four states play out could be affected by how district lines are redrawn based on the 2010 census. With the exception of New Jersey, all the states holding legislative elections next year have a partisan redistricting process controlled by the legislatures. In a rare case of agreement between opposing party operatives, both Republican State Leadership Committee Executive Director Chris Jankowski and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Communications Director Carolyn Fiddler said in interviews that all bets are off until redistricting is completed.
“In all these states, they [legislative representatives] will be running in new maps,” says Fiddler. “What we are looking at now will not be representative in the run-up to November.”
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org