On the Coattails of a Contract: RNC Activities and Epublican Gains in the 1994 State Legislative Elections

Article excerpt

In 1994, the Republican party initiated an unprecedented effort by a modem American political party to coordinate issues in subnational campaigns. They made a concerted effort to persuade state Republican party leaders to adopt electoral contracts similar to the "Republican Contract with America," reflecting basic Republican values, but tailored to the particular needs of each state. About half of the states holding elections in 1994 responded by developing such documents. The purpose of this study is to determine if these contracts had coattails in the midterm state legislative elections similar to those generally provided by popular presidential or gubernatorial candidates during their elections. The results indicate that many Republican state legislative candidates may indeed have ridden their electoral contracts to historic seat gains, even controlling for such traditional predictors as presidential popularity, economic evaluation, variations in voter turnout and partisan financial support. These results suggest that politicians might reconsider how they have traditionally conducted legislative campaigns and to scholars that they reevaluate

how they study them.

Haley Barbour, Contract with the American People: Logistics and Planning

As expressed by Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Haley Barbour in a message distributed to over 12,000 Republican officials and candidates across the country, the Republican party in 1994 became the first major party in modern American politics to attempt systematically to influence and coordinate the issues on which state and local candidates campaigned, making the 1994 elections, from top to bottom, a referendum on the fundamental values and ideology espoused by the Republican party While journalists and a few scholars have given considerable attention to the "Republican Contract with America" (Jacobson 1994, 1996; Koopman 1994; Riley 1995; Dwyre and Kolodny 1996), both seem to have ignored (or were unaware of) the wide range of subnational electoral contracts. And yet the growing importance of state government in the 1990's, coupled with the general volatility of state legislative elections in midterm election years (Van Dunk and Holbrook 1994), make this a topic that should be of considerable interest to both. Further, the fact that some states adopted contracts while others did not makes this a more ideal testing ground for the effects of electoral contracts than the national election, because states without such documents form a natural control group.

In the following pages, I will examine two aspects of the Republican effort to influence the electoral agendas of the 1994 state legislative elections. First, the responses of the states to this initiative are examined to determine the degree to which this was a regional or national phenomenon. Second, Republican House and Senate gains in each state are analyzed in a multivariate model to determine the degree to which Republican candidates for the state legislature rode these "contract coattails" to victory in 1994.

THE 1994 STATE LEGISLATIVE ELECTION IN A HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

Nineteen hundred and ninety-four was a Republican year. Republicans gained fifty-three seats in the United States House of Representatives and eight seats in the United States Senate. The Republican party defeated five incumbent Democratic governors, while reelecting all ten of their own incumbents and winning fifteen open seats. They picked up seats in thirty-three of the forty-one state senates holding partisan elections in 1994 for an increase of over one hundred seats, while the Democrats made gains in only two states. Republican legislative caucuses had net gains in forty-three of the forty-six lower chambers which held elections in 1994 (including a special election in New Jersey for one seat), for a net nationwide increase of 354 seats. These gains gave them a majority in more state legislative chambers than they have had in over fifty years (Hansen 1994). …