Race of the Decade: Dead Heat State Legislatures Are Almost Evenly Divided between the GOP and Democrats. Coming Election May Swing Balance. Series: Election for A New Century - 1998
Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Ken Paust sprints up the driveway, rings the doorbell, and plants a wide Hoosier grin on his face.
"Hi! I'm Ken Paust and I'm a Republican running for the state legislature," he announces, handing over a brochure.
As the Nov. 3 election approaches, this is where the shoe-rubber hits the road: door-to-door campaigning in one of the closest races for a seat in the Indiana House - itself the most bitterly divided chamber in the US, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Nationally, the state legislatures themselves could hardly be more evenly split. In 20 states, the Democrats control both chambers, in 19, both houses are Republican-controlled, 10 states are split, and one - Nebraska - is nonpartisan. "This is a big, historic election," says Tim Storey, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Redistricting of congressional seats looms after the 2000 census, and both parties are jockeying to control as many state legislative chambers and governor's offices as they can to gain a partisan advantage when the maps are redrawn. Governors and potential governors are eager to elect friendly legislatures so they can enact their agendas - and, in turn, help them win election next time around. They also want to build up their parties' farm teams. On issues such as welfare reform, control of legislatures has gained in importance this decade as Congress has devolved power to the states. For all of the above reasons, the state and national parties are providing more support than ever - cash, personnel, polling, and ads - to what seem like lowly local races. Spending on some races could go as high as $1 million. Mr. Paust, a lanky, affable businessman in the east Indiana college town of Richmond, expects to spend about $60,000 - a relative bargain, because he's not in an expensive media market. But he's gotten invaluable help from his congressman, Rep. David McIntosh (R), who is reported to have his eye on the governor's office in 2000. And former Vice President Dan Quayle, an Indiana native, has cut some radio ads for him. In addition, an eager young Republican aide from the legislature in Indianapolis has been sent by the Republican caucus to help Paust win. He came armed with maps of Paust's district showing where the strongest Republican areas are - the parts Paust visits first when he's going door-to-door. Paust faces an uphill battle. His opponent, a 12-year incumbent and Richmond High classmate named Dick Bodiker, is popular. Still, even if Paust loses, Indiana political analyst Brian Vargus predicts the Republicans statewide will make a net gain of one or two seats. "That's the picture today," cautions Mr. Vargus, head of the Indiana University Public Opinion Laboratory in Indianapolis. "But it's been bouncing back and forth." Nationally, Mr. Storey of the NCSL also expects the GOP to make gains in the total number of legislative seats it holds, a continuation of the nationwide trend toward Republicanism that has given the GOP control of both houses of Congress and 32 of 50 governor's seats. …