Note: This is one of four stories previewing the 2012 election in each of the nation's major regions. The complete series:
2012 State Legislative Election Preview: In the West, it’s Even-Steven on Election Eve
2012 State Legislative Election Preview: In the Northeast, Democrats go on Offense in Their Strongest Region
2012 State Legislative Election Preview: Democrats Trying to Claw Back in the Midwest
State Legislative Election Preview 2012: An Upside Down Solid South?
By Tim Storey
Just four years ago, it looked like we were about to coin a new phrase for the political lexic--the "solid North." By picking up the New York Senate and the Delaware House in the 2008 election, Democrats controlled every legislative chamber east of Ohio and north of Virginia save one—the Pennsylvania Senate. They held most of those chambers by sizable margins, and it appeared that Democrats might control northeastern states for years to come. That must all seem like a distant dream to Democrats now after the tide shifted dramatically in 2010 and Republicans won back well over 200 seats and moved five chambers back into the GOP column in the Northeast alone.
On the eve of this election, the Northeast is the only region where Democrats start out with the advantage. They control 13 of the legislative chambers in the region; Republicans are the majority in seven. It's the only region in the country where Democrats hold more chambers than Republicans. They also control about 150 more seats than the Republicans in the Northeast.
The Northeast probably holds the least amount of intrigue of the four regions this year, partly due to the strength of Democrats here. Six of the ten most-Democratic legislatures are in the Northeast including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which rank just behind Hawaii as the states with the largest percentage of Democratic legislators in the nation.
Maine is one of the Democrats' best hopes for a comeback in 2012. Democrats held the Pine Tree State House from 1974 until narrowly losing control in 2010 when Republicans gained a 78 –72 edge (with one independent). Because of term limits and other retirements, there are 52 open seat—one-third of the membership--in the 2012 election. The open seats are almost evenly divided between Ds and Rs. Democrats have the advantage in early voting and are expected to do better with Obama at the top of the ticket than in 2010. Matt Gagnon, a GOP partisan who blogs at Pine Tree Politics, thinks that the Democrats will win back the Maine House but not the Maine Senate. And he hints at a possible coalition if the numbers are close in the House. The Maine Senate is also worth watching. The numbers are close: 19 R – 15 D and 1 Independent. The Maine Senate has been one of the most competitive chambers in the country over the past decade. It is likely to be close again and could even wind up tied, as it was several years ago. Unaffiliated Senator Richard Woodbury, should he be reelected, could be the kingmaker.
The other northeastern state to keep an eye on is New York, where the Assembly will almost certainly stay in the hands of Democrats, given their 48 seat advantage headed into election day. Democrats would like to gain the three seats they need to re-take control of the Senate, which they held briefly from 2008 to 2010 after over three decades of GOP control. The wild card is the fallout from Hurricane Sandy, especially given that some of the most competitive seats are in storm ravaged areas in Queens and on Long Island. Democrats have a sizable voter registration advantage, but the redistricting map gives Republicans a decent shot to hang on to control. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has reportedly not done much to help his party's Senate candidates, and Republicans have a sizable edge in fundraising. New York's Senate will be adding a seat this election, going up to 65 under the new redistricting map--another factor that may help Republicans maintain control.
In Delaware, Democrats are hoping to benefit from a new redistricting map and keep recently earned majorities. However, there are big changes coming to the Blue Hen State Legislature After 40 years in the House and four years as House Speaker, Bob Gilligan is retiring this year. This means that the Delaware House will have to pick a new Speaker for just the second time in the past 24 years. The Senate will also have a new leader due to the primary election defeat of President Pro Tempore Anthony DeLuca.
The other Democratic legislatures in the Northeast, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, are all heavily controlled by Democrats, and that is not likely to change in this election.
In the region's other Republican legislatures, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Democrats hope that they can make up ground lost in 2010, but seizing back majorities will be tough given the numbers and hurdles created by redistricti--or the lack thereof. In Pennsylvania, a commission-drawn map was overturned by the courts, so the old maps that were used when Republicans won big in 2010 will be used again in 2012. Politics PA says that, "Barring some tectonic shift in the political environment, the Democrats have no chance of retaking the majority [in the House]. They're likely to pick up net 2 seats and could realistically gain up to 4." As for the Keystone State Senate, Politics PA also handicaps Democrats with long odds for a takeover, although they will likely gain a few seats.
New Hampshire Democrats have a steep mountain to climb, given that they have over 190 fewer seats in the 400-seat New Hampshire House than the GOP. And the New Hampshire State Senate has fewer Democrats (five) than any other chamber in the country except for Wyoming where there are four only four Democrats. Look for Democrats to gain some seats in New Hampshire. Given the size of that state's House, it will likely bulk up Demorcats' national seat gains and might be the deciding factor in which party nets the most seats nationwide this election cycle.