Aftermath: GOP makes big gains in state legislatures, governors

While people understandably focused on the Congressional races in the midterm elections, the change in the states may be more profound and have more impact on future Congresses, as well as on the upcoming 2012 presidential race.  Republican incumbents didn’t lose a single gubernatorial race last night and the GOP picked up ten seats overall in those races.  They also dominated the legislative races in the states, winning control in more than a dozen states.

First, the executive races:

The wave swept a diverse batch of GOP winners into office, including a Latina in New Mexico, a Latino in Nevada and the daughter of Sikh immigrants in South Carolina.

The GOP pickups were a major blow to President Barack Obama on an already tough night. In addition to Ohio and Iowa, Republicans seized the executive mansions in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. More than half of the states will be keys to his reelection.

Democrats only got one pickup, California, although Rick Scott hasn’t officially completed his win in Florida.  If Alex Sink makes up the 50K vote deficit she currently has in the final 10% of precincts left to count, that would be a second pickup.  The race in Oregon is closer than Florida, with only 40K votes separating Republican Chris Dudley and former Democratic governor John Kitzhaber.  Republican Paul LePage narrowly leads in Maine as well.

The broad change complicates matters for Barack Obama.  Losing Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, New Mexico, and especially Michigan and Iowa eats into Obama’s base of support in a general election, and potentially even in a primary, although Obama does better on the coasts anyway.  If a Democrat rises out of the Midwest to challenge Obama from the right (Evan Bayh) or the left (perhaps Russ Feingold?), Obama may have a tough time surviving it.

Meanwhile, Obama’s party is heading for hard times, thanks to a major shift in legislative control just as redistricting begins in earnest:

A bad night for Democrats Tuesday got even worse at the local level: Republicans were on the verge of winning nearly all 17 of the state legislative chambers they had originally set out for on Tuesday, some for the first time in decades, a shift that puts the GOP in the driver’s seat when the congressional redistricting process begins early next year.

The GOP gains were most significant in the Midwest, where the party picked up state House majorities in the Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and were within striking distance of capturing legislatures in the highly-prized electoral battlegrounds of Michigan and Wisconsin. But Republicans also gained control of both chambers of the New Hampshire and North Carolina legislature, and took the Alabama legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

The New Hampshire win was a windfall for Republicans, who picked up more than 120 seats to flip the House while also snatching away the Senate, earning a seat at the redistricting table with Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who narrowly won a fourth term. And the Buckeye State win gave the GOP a measure of revenge: they lost control of the House to Democrats in 2008 by just a handful of seats.

Coupled with wins at the gubernatorial level, the GOP takeovers of those state legislatures means Democrats will be out in the cold when new congressional districts are drawn with 2010 census data.

Before considering the redistricting issue, this demonstrates that the wave was both wide and deep last night.  The message from voters wasn’t just in response to Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obana, but to the entire Democratic Party and its direction.   This will also mean that Republicans will have a deeper bench in future Congressional races, making it even more difficult for Democrats to reverse their losses in the near- to mid-term.

That’s not what worries Democrats the most, though, about future Democratic prospects in the US House.  These legislatures have to redraw Congressional districts this year, which means that the politics of each district will change.  Some Democratic incumbents may be forced to run against each other in order to survive in 2012, and in these states at least, Republican districts will become easier to defend.   That will be especially important in battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

This may be the biggest victory for Republicans from last night, and perhaps the longest-lasting.