Legislative battleground focused on presidential swing states

It’s taking shape with 20 weeks until Election Day.
A voter marks their ballot at a polling place in Bristol, Pa., Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Twenty weeks before the most consequential election in a century and a half, Democrats and Republicans fighting for control of down-ballot state legislatures see substantial overlap between the states that will choose the next president and those where partisan control of state legislatures are in play.

Democrats, Republicans and their allies are planning what is likely to amount to the most expensive battle for control of state legislatures ever mounted. It will play out in the same states that will decide the rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump and along many of the same ideological lines that divide the presidential foes.

Democrats hope to win control of Arizona’s legislature, where Republicans hold two-seat majorities in both the House and Senate. In New Hampshire, Democrats need to capture three seats in the 24-member Senate and seven seats in the 400-member House to wrest back control.

Both states, which cast their electoral votes for Biden in 2020, are again at the core of Biden and Trump’s paths to the 270 electoral votes they need to win the White House.

Republicans are targeting the Minnesota Senate, where a single special election will decide control, and the Minnesota House, where the GOP needs to net three seats to reclaim control. In Michigan, Republicans hope to overturn the Democrats’ House majority that is as narrow as the GOP’s edge in Arizona.

Both states were in Biden’s column in 2020, though Michigan voted for Trump in 2016 and Minnesota only narrowly favored Hillary Clinton over Trump that year.

Republicans and Democrats are also focused on Pennsylvania, where Republicans hold 28 seats in the 50-member Senate and Democrats own 102 seats in the 203-member House. That state favored Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020.

Like the presidential contest, strategists in both parties believe control of the legislature will come down to just a handful of voters in suburban and exurban districts.

Michael Joyce, a spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, pointed out that the results from just nine districts in Minnesota, Michigan and the Pennsylvania House will determine control of all three states; 33 seats across Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania will determine the control of a majority of legislatures across the nation.

“A lot of the battlegrounds and most competitive races will be in suburbs, exurban areas, college towns, places whose demographics are diversifying,” said Sam Paisley, Joyce’s counterpart at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Democrats are still struggling to reverse the results of the 2010 midterm elections, when a Republican wave handed the party control of a majority of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers — a majority they maintain today.

To regain their edge, Democrats say they are focused on a multi-year effort to wrest back control in states including North Carolina, Wisconsin and Georgia, all states where Republicans have used their majorities to draw favorable political boundaries. A recent court decision in Wisconsin imposed new map lines that Democrats believe will help them make inroads and reduce the Republican supermajority in the state Senate.

Republicans counter that they, too, have opportunities for long-term gains. Republicans hope to make gains in Nevada, where Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2022, and in states including Oregon, Washington, Colorado and even California, places where Democrats own substantial majorities.

State legislative candidates will parrot many of the same themes that will anchor Biden’s and Trump’s campaigns — a rare confluence of national issues at the state level, brought on by the fall of Roe v. Wade, a red-state assault on LGBTQ rights, and state efforts to tackle a surge in undocumented immigrants coming over the Southern border.

“You’ll hear a lot from us about how fundamental freedoms are at stake,” the DLCC’s Paisley said. “Abortion is absolutely the cornerstone of that. We have seen how abortion has been such an energizing issue for Democrats.”

“Republicans are more trusted to solve the most pressing issues facing families, such as the rising cost of living and the border crisis,” the RSLC’s Joyce said.