We already knew the GOP’s net gain of 60-plus U.S. House seats was the largest pickup for either party since the 1940s. Now, National Journal is reporting that Republicans also eclipsed the Democrats’ modern record for most statehouse seats taken over:
Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — the most in the modern era. To put that number in perspective: In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats.
The GOP gained majorities in at least 14 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures.
Such a thorough changing of the guard suggests the (soon-to-be former) majority party’s brand suffered monumental damage. President Obama wasn’t solely responsible for that — Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid gave it their best, too — but his comments at his press conference yesterday suggest he doesn’t really understand or acknowledge just how hard a “shellacking” Democrats received Tuesday.
The National Journal article also discusses the effect this turnover will have on redistricting. I mentioned that briefly in last night’s post, but I’d like to expand on what I meant.
The 2010 Census is not expected to change the number of seats that 32 states have in the U.S. House (or electoral votes they have in the next three presidential elections). But eight states will gain seats and EVs, at the expense of 10 other states.
In the 32, ideally the district maps would be tweaked only slightly, to accommodate population shifts within the state. But politics is bound to enter the equation in the other 18.
Take Pennsylvania, which is slated to lose one of its 19 seats. One of those 19 representatives will be the odd man out. So, regardless of how fairly the lines are drawn, they will result in the loss of either a Republican’s seat or a Democrat’s seat. There’s no way to avoid that.
I am all for even-handed government. Ideally, the new maps would be drawn in a way that boosts competition first and foremost. But even I don’t expect a party that controls the governor’s mansion, both chambers of the statehouse and two-thirds of the congressional delegation — as the GOP now does in Pennsylvania — to go out of its way to protect one of the other party’s seats. And given what that kind of strength says about the will of the voters, how could anyone argue otherwise?
ADDED: I realized I should explain how the situation I described is different from what Roy Barnes did after the 2000 Census.
In Georgia back then, Democrats had controlled the governor’s mansion and the Legislature for 130 years — but the Republican share of the electoral vote had been trending upward for more than 10 years and had already surpassed 50 percent, with no sign of stopping. (Ten years later, we know that trend has, if anything, sped up.)
What Barnes did was try to draw the maps in a way that would preserve Democratic majorities even as they were no longer winning a majority of the votes. As I said in a comment last night, I think any Republicans or Democrats in any other state who try to pull off a similar coup deserve just as much criticism as Barnes got, along with the judicial rebuke his maps received.
But in a state like Pennsylvania, the opposite has happened: Republicans have just won a sizable new mandate at the expense of Democrats. By definition, they would not be defying a longstanding, unabated electoral trend as Barnes did.
As I wrote above, ideally they would redraw the maps in a way that promotes competition. But if they do it in a way that costs a Democrat his seat, rather than a Republican, they still will be a long, long way from what happened in this state.