2008 electoral gains limited for Democrats at the state level

While we're having a great time at the annual Workforce Board planning retreat, we decided to take a break to crunch some numbers and share some electoral data with our readers, this time looking at the nationwide outcomes in the state races.

While Democrats fared well at the national level, most notably in their bid for Electoral College votes for Barack Obama (you don't hear Democrats complaining about it this time around ... ) and Senate seats, the state level picture wasn't as impressive.

While the GOP had finally reached relative parity to Democrats in the number of legislative chambers held (about half of the total of 98 partisan chambers), they lost control of a number of legislative majorities in the midst of the 2006 Democratic electoral wave. While one might have expected state races to again mirror the federal races, it seems as if the GOP was able to dodge this bullet, only losing one Governor's office and a very minor number of legislative seats to the Democrats nationwide.

According to state election data from the NCSL - the National Conference of State Legislatures, the GOP's legislative seat losses in 2008 were much less than those seen two years ago:

Nationwide partisan Senate seats, by election year:

2008: 1026 (53.5% ) DEM / 891 (46.5%) GOP - Change in share of seats: 0.8%
2006: 1011 (52.7%) DEM / 906 (47.3%) GOP - Change in share of seats: 3.0%
2004 : 953 (49.7%) DEM / 964 (50.3%) GOP


Nationwide partisan House seats, by election year:

2008: 3064 (56.8%) DEM / 2330 (43.2%) GOP - Change in share of seats: 1.6%
2006: 2975 (55.2%) DEM / 2410 (44.8%) GOP - Change in share of seats: 5.1%
2004: 2708 (50.2%) DEM / 2687 (49.8%) GOP

The slight difference in the totals is because non-partisan and third party legislators were not included.

It's interesting to note that there was very little in the way of losses in what was supposed to be a bad year for the GOP, especially since many of these legislators will be casting votes for reapportionment plans

Phil Bailey, the state's best Democratic campaign operative, felt this outcome reflected a trend among independent voters to split their tickets:


The Republicans had a hell of a 72-hour operation in South Carolina. Nationwide, I think the middle-of-the-road voters wanted to balance their votes by voting for change in national races, but then voting for some incumbents, which favored the status quo at the local level.


Jim Merrill, the outgoing State House Majority Leader, felt voters assessed state races differently than national races:

Voters more closely scrutinize local races. They were mad at the national-level Republicans, but on the local level, many voters still saw the Republicans they knew in state offices weren't part of the problem.


For a little broader perspective, we talked with Mark Lisella, a Lowcountry native Republican strategist who consults state legislative and congressional races nationwide. He believed a news media bias existed towards upper-ballot Democratic candidates, thus helping convince voters who normally voted for the GOP to split their tickets:

The depravity of the mainstream media rarely shocks me, but their behavior this election cycle was astounding. They abandoned any pretense of impartiality or journalistic integrity to ensure a Democratic victory in competitive races.

This bias is clearly reflected in the election results of the higher profile campaigns. Generally speaking, the campaigns with more media exposure benefitted the Democratic candidate.

Missouri is typically considered a bellwether state. This cycle, no Republican seats in the Missouri State Senate were lost, and three were picked up -- enough seats to override the new Democratic governor. This was the largest increase in the country for a Republican-controlled chamber. The Democratic candidates at the top of the ballot received a disproportionate amount of media coverage, which was more favorable than unfavorable, and that's reflected in the election results.

Ok, now that the experts have spoken ... what do YOU, our readers think ... ?

3 Response to "2008 electoral gains limited for Democrats at the state level"

  1. west_rhino 7/11/08 11:09
    Amusing is the fact that the MSM doens't understand that the market isn't instantly bouyed by Obama's election, that gasoline prices haven't magically dropped to 29 cents per gallon...

    The obdurate main stream media has to take a hit for its behaviour, even a Chris Matthews sound bite that his mission is now to ensure the success of an Obama administration tolls a resounding resonance that his mission prior to that point apparently was to be in the mix of "enemies, foreign and domestic" undermining any Republican regieme. While the faces and apparatschicks of the MSM aren't sworn to a standard, there's a lot of folks that are and a lot of those go in harms way and are placed at greater risk because of MSM's aid to the obvious enemies of the USA.

    To the state level, complacency on some levels accounts for some GOP losses as seemingly do some backroom deals that are only murmured and may have only the wieght of a promise that the check is in the mail...

    I have to wonder if backing McCain so early will have repercussions for the Speaker, the AG and a few others as the shifts in Columbia follow the ebb and flow of this years voting. I'll grant, within two years we'll see some GOP 2012 hopefuls playing at fundraising for the races in state and some testing of campaign tactics and strategies. It will be interesting, unless the rapture intervenes.
  2. Brian McCarty 8/11/08 02:06
    I think it came down to the fact that state politics are the most local of them all. Take Anderson County. Don Bowen, and especially his wife, are well thought of in the community. I disagree with Bowen on education issues, but the guy is a nice guy. That played well against a tough challenger.

    Kevin Bryant won his senate race because is a a good guy and is family are good people. When Marshall Meadors had Ron Wilson pitching for him, it only underscored how decent the Bryants were. The Bryants are the folks who you want to move in next door.

    On the flip side, the same worked for Floyd Nicholson in Greenwood. You won't meet a nicer guy that Floyd Nicholson. His kind nature, and his famous fish fries, were worth the difference in that race.

    Forget the issues, forget the money, in state and local races it often comes down to who people like. The middle, which decides such races in the swing districts, will vote for the guy that they like being around.

    That's how Nicholson became one the few state senators in history to be a black man elected from a white district and how Don Bowen especially held on to his house seat in a year geared to defeat him.

    It takes no expert to tell you that if people like you and your family, you will win a close race.
  3. Greeleyville MG 9/11/08 13:56
    Brian I must say Don Bowen and his wife are some of the nicest people in politics I have ever met. Anderson did well in returning him to his House seat.

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