It can’t be overstated; Republicans had a great election night. As I’ve written before, the butcher’s bill that Obama will leave behind for his party at the state and local level will be staggering. Even lefty outlets, like Vox, wrote it was time for Democrats to admit they’re heading for serious structural problems if nothing is done to stop the bleeding. Democrats are already pumping $70 million into Advantage 2020 in order to win back some of their lost ground. Tuesday night was a kick in the teeth to that plan. For starters, these bastions of power Republicans have built through these underreported races have their roots in the 1990s, when they won back the House of Representatives. In short, Democrats didn’t care about local government, Republicans did. And in doing so, have created a wide talent pool for state legislators, secretaries of state, and lieutenant governors etc., to gain the experience needed for higher office. Looking at Tuesday night’s returns, that trend was for the most part kept intact.
The Republican State Leadership Committee was on the front lines in these races. The RSLC’s president, Matt Walter, chairman emeritus, Ed Gillespie, and chairman, former Rep. Bill McCollum went over their report card in a conference call yesterday morning.
Gillespie, who is also presumptive 2017 nominee for governor of Virginia and former RNC chair, said that Democrats had the Virginia State Senate as a top priority. It was also a top-level defensive target for the RSLC as well. A ton of money was spent on this race. The RSLC chipped in $1 million into the races, while Democrats saw $2.4 million coming from Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety and $444,000 from Next Generation, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating climate change, “and the threat of diminished prospects for children and families.” In all, Gillespie said that the Virginia elections saw $3.8 million in outside money pour into the state. The good news, as Guy noted, is that Republicans maintained their supermajority in the House of Delegates and maintained their control of the senate. That pretty much kills expanding Medicaid in the state, along with passing new, unnecessary gun control measures. Democrats only needed to gain one seat to take control of the upper chamber.
In House District 82, Jason S. Miyares was elected, becoming the first Cuban-American to serve in the Virginia House. The Right Women, Right Now PAC, also part of the RSLC’s orbit, saw success as well, with Amanda Chase and Siobhan S. Dunnavant being elected to Senate Districts 11 and 12, respectively.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s ability to set the groundwork for Clinton in 2016 would have been easier if Democrats had made gains in the state races. That’s now more of an obstacle, though Northern Virginia will be a center of misery for Republicans in their efforts to carry the state for the 2016 Republican nominee.
RSLC president Matt Walter reiterated the “tremendous and historic Republican success at the state level” last night. In Kentucky, lieutenant governor-elect Jenean Hampton became the first African-American elected in a statewide race. Overall, Republicans hold 32 lieutenant governorships compared to the Democrats’ 12. The GOP also has more women and Hispanics in those positions than Democrats. Matt Bevin also trounced Democratic opponent Attorney General Jack Conway becoming the second Republican governor in four decades. Walter said that the State House, one of the last (if not the last) bastions of Democratic control in the South is on their target list.
In New York’s 52nd Senate District, Fred Ashkar was able to hold onto the seat for Republicans after defeating Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s favorite Barbara Fiala in a landslide 79-21. As a result, Republicans maintain their control of the state’s upper chamber. The New York Times reported that this special election was a gauge on voter anger towards Albany, and possibly served as a rude awakening for Democrats hoping to edge into the rural parts of the state. Ms. Fiala even acknowledged that voters in this part of the state aren’t viewing Cuomo positively, and that her time as head of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles probably wasn't an asset. Its former senator–Thomas W. Libous–resigned after he was convicted of lying to the FBI, but the Times added that Ashkar’s pollster, Robert Blizzard, said the GOP succeeded in casting Ashkar as the fresh face.
In Mississippi, the RSLC set a record. All statewide candidates (with the exception of the Attorney General race; the incumbent was a Democrat) were re-elected, including the insurance commissioner Mike Chaney. The Democrats also had the 122-member State House on their target list. In the end, the GOP inched closer towards a supermajority, increasing the number of seats held from 67 to 73. Republicans were able to defeat the Democratic State House leader, Bobby Moak, who's served since 1984. Shane Aguirre, one of RSLC’s 15 races to watch in ’15, was elected, becoming the first Latino member of the House. The state senate majority was maintained, Jenifer Branning was elected in Senate District 18, which Walter attributed to good candidate recruitment.
As we head north to Maine, the GOP control 69 of the 154 seats, but Republicans were able to pick up two State House seats in special elections in districts that Obama carried in 2012. The Maine State Senate remains in Republican hands.
Pennsylvania was a buzz kill. Yes, Republican Guy Reschenthaler retook Senate District 37 from Democrats in a special election after Democratic Sen. Matt Smith resigned to become the president Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, but Democrats swept all three Supreme Court races. As Guy mentioned, this will have implications on redistricting, as well as gun rights, for years to come. Walter said that the spending disparity just couldn’t be overcome with this race. The unions and the trial lawyers outspent Republicans by a five-to-one margin.
In New Jersey, Assemblyman Chris Brown was re-elected to his Atlantic County, which broke for Obama by 20 points. Out west, the RSLC expects Republican Teri Hickel to win Washington’s House District 30B, reducing the Democratic majority to just one seat. It’s a vote-by-mail state, so the official results could take a couple more days. This probable special election win is part of a five-cycle trend of GOP pick-ups in the state House and Senate from Obama-carried districts in the state. This is all due to better candidates and better messaging.
Walter concluded by noting that Republicans control 69 of 99 legislative chambers, the most ever, along with significant numbers of Republicans becoming insurance commissioners, secretaries of state, and lieutenant governors. Democrats focused on the state level; they said they would, and they were, by most accounts, resoundingly defeated. Republicans were outspent in nearly every state they competed, by both candidate and independent expenditures, and still prevailed. Walter acknowledged that it boils down to finding good candidates–and that pool is certainly deeper and wider for Republicans. Moreover, it once again shows, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted, how the flexible party is, and winning in every corner of the country last night.
CORRECTION: The original post said the GOP controlled 66/99 legislative chambers, which is the most since 1920. That's not correct. The GOP has the most legislative seats since 1920, but concerning control of state legislatures– it's the most that the Republican Party has ever had in their control.