Who could have suspected that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi would spark a national rejection of their party that outdid Watergate? In the wake of the resignation of Richard Nixon three months earlier, Democrats won 628 seats in state legislatures while flipping 49 seats in the US House and three seats in the US Senate in those 1974 midterm elections. National Journal reports today that the GOP wreaked “devastation” on Democrats in this cycle by netting not just the 60+ seats in the US House and six US Senate, but also 680 seats in state legislatures across the country:
Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — an all time high. 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.
That control is a particularly bad sign for Democrats as they go into the redistricting process. If the GOP is effective in gerrymandering districts in many of these states, it could eventually lead to the GOP actually expanding its majority in 2012.
Republicans now hold the redistricting “trifecta” — both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship — in 15 states. They also control the Nebraska governorship and the unicameral legislature, taking the number up to 16. And in North Carolina — probably the state most gerrymandered to benefit Democrats — Republicans hold both chambers of the state legislature and the Democratic governor does not have veto power over redistricting proposals.
Obama has been called Nixonian before, but never in this context. When he charged to victory in 2008, Democrats thought they had unlocked the secret of marrying a progressive to the broad center of American politics. Instead, his radical agenda has alienated the center and leaves Democrats with a sharply reduced national base for their future.
Earlier today, I mentioned that a second “wave” election in 2012 would primarily affect the Senate (if it comes at all), as Democrats have lost most of the vulnerable seats in the House already. However, this data shows two more dangers to the Democrats, and not just in 2012. First, redistricting will change the nature of more than a few of the “safe” Democratic seats across the middle of the country, if not on the West Coast and northeastern Atlantic seaboard. Republicans will strengthen their own incumbents and look to weaken the others over the next year.
In the longer term, though, Republicans will have more connection to voters and build better organizations in states where they have achieved control. That will put Democrats at a disadvantage for fundraising, but also in developing candidates for public office. It will put more Republicans into statewide offices, into governorships, and into Congress. That impact will likely be felt long past the next census, and may be the most underrated effects of the 2010 wave.