With the media's political Doppler radar fixed squarely on this
November's presidential showdown, a less-obvious political battle is
taking place that, in several ways, will have a more direct impact
on the lives of Americans.
The outcome also could more accurately reflect where voters stand
on a spate of domestic issues, from gay marriage to abortion and
The battle for party control over state legislatures, say
experts, is more intense than at any point in recent political
Of the more than 7,000 legislative seats in the US, the GOP holds
a slim 60-seat advantage. And of the 50 states, 25 have legislative
chambers that could switch party control with a shift of just three
seats or less.
In Maine and Colorado, a switch of one seat could reverse
longtime party dominance of both legislative and executive branches.
While in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, a change in
three seats could significantly reshape the poltical path of the
South's fastest-growing states.
Several of the nation's key battleground states - Missouri,
Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington - could solidify political
alliances for years to come.
"This is a far bigger election year for state legislatures than
most," says Tim Story, election analyst for the National Conference
of State Legislatures. "Because there are so many close votes which
could shift party control of legislative chambers, it will likely
have an impact on every issue before state government from civil
unions to transportation, education, and health care."
This fall's vote will indicate whether Republicans can continue
to garner more power in state governments. The 2002 election gave
the GOP control of a majority of US legislative seats for the first
time in 50 years. (Republicans now control both chambers in 21
states, compared to 18 for Democrats.)
A dramatic gain for Republicans, or a shift towards the
Democrats, will not only be a litmus test for national candidates,
but could also indicate the overall political leanings of the
electorate at the grass roots.
"These crucial, very close races in so many state legislatures
are big deal because they will show if the GOP's recent gains
continue or move backward," says Steven Schier, political scientist
at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. "If there is a swing
backward, that is important, if it continues, it's historic."
For individual states, a shift in party control usually means a
redistribution of power through committee assignments and leadership
positions. The party with a majority is able to control which bills
are voted on. Powerful leaders are able to quash some legislation
altogether, or resurrect other bills that previous parties bottled-
up for years.
"The majority party in any legislature has control of the agenda
in a profound way," says Elizabeth Garrett, political scientist at
the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. …