September 16, 2020



"It ain't over until it's over." The current narrative on the 2020 election is that President Trump has "destroyed" the Republican brand name and the future viability of the party. But it ain't destroyed until it is destroyed.

To be sure, Democrats are ascendant. Nancy Pelosi predicts a Nov. 3 Democratic "blow-out." And that will certainly occur in Illinois, and on the West Coast (CA, OR, WA, NM) and on the mid-Atlantic East Coast (NY, MD, DE), plus New England (CN, RI, MA. NH. VT and ME). That's 14 hardcore Democratic states with 149 electoral votes and lopsidedly Democratic congressional delegations and state legislatures. And those legislatures draw their own district maps as well as congressional district lines, as will occur in 2021 following the 2020 census.

California has a 29D-11R Senate and 61D-17R House, and a 45D-7R congressional delegation. New York has a 40D-20R Senate and a 103D-42R House, and a 21D-6R congressional delegation. New Jersey has a 25D-15R Senate and 52D-28R House and a 10D-2R congressional delegation.

But elsewhere it's the Republicans who have been and will remain ascendant, particularly on the state legislative level. Of the 49 partisan legislatures (Nebraska is unicameral and non-partisan, but really Republican-controlled), Republicans have majorities in 28 state Senates and 31 state Houses, and control the governorship and both chambers in 21 states, to the Democrats' 15, with 14 states divided. The South is a Republican lockdown, with legislative majorities in all but Virginia.

So what is Illinois' anomaly? As indicated by the adjoining chart detailing partisan composition of state legislatures in nine Midwestern states, Republicans are in solid shape in seven, controlling both chambers of the state legislature in IN, MI, IA, KN, OH, WI and MO, plus one chamber in MN, and governorships in IN, IA, OH and MO. Illinois has a Democratic governor with lopsided 40-19 and 74-44 Democratic majorities in the Senate and House, respectively, and they will grow in 2020 and beyond. The key is Madigan and money. Other states don't have a Democratic so called "pay-to-play speaker," and they have a higher rural population than Illinois' 31 percent.

Tip O'Neill said "all politics is local." That has not been the case during the Trump era when all politics is national and defined by polarization into pro- and anti-Trump factions. But while Trump will be gone, either sooner (2020) or later (2024), control of state legislatures, especially those elected in 2020, will last for a decade and have a major impact on the party composition of the U.S. House, where Democrats now have a 235-199 majority, as well as the perpetuation of their own composition. The Republicans' 2010 surge, which was essentially a pushback against the Obama administration and "Obamacare," flipped from democrat to republican ten Senate chambers and nine House chambers, giving Republicans control of the remap in 29 states. What was crafted in 2011 has persisted to this day, despite the 2018 Trump debacle.

As detailed in the chart, 2011's Republican-drawn lines kept the party in legislative control even in 2018. Republicans in the 4 election cycles since 2012 have GAINED 15 legislative seats in IA, ten in IN, seven in MO, and three each in OH and WI.

Ohio has to rank as the Republicans' ultimate success story. It is much like Illinois. The state has major urban areas (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, Dayton, Toledo, Canton), an industrial economy, active unions, and a 14 percent Black population. It is also 23 percent rural. Yet Republicans consistently win statewide. John Kasich was elected governor in 2010, and Republicans had a 23R-10D and 59R-40D legislative majority. In 2018, despite the national anti-Trump pushback, state attorney general Mike DeWine (R), who was defeated for re-election as senator in 2006, was comfortably elected governor, and Republicans kept their 24R-9D and 61R-38D legislative majorities and every statewide office. Republicans governed well and efficiently - no tax hikes or scandals. And were rewarded.

Indiana deserves a mention since vice-president Mike Pence was governor 2012-16 and is the presumptive 2024 nominee if Trump-Pence wins in 2020. The state was competitive through the 1990s and into the 2000s, with Democratic governors from 1988 to 2004.

The Republicans ran the state post-2004 and had 37R-13D and 59R-40D legislative majorities after 2012. They're now 40R-10D and 66R-33D, a gain of 10 seats. Like in Ohio, govern well and keep control. And farmer-laden Iowa, thought to be anti-Trump after the China tariff spat, has been sprinting Republican. It ousted a Democratic governor in 2010, and the 2013 legislature was 26D-24R and 60D-40R. It's now 32R-18D and 53R-47D, a flip of 21 seats. Good governance.

Michigan will be a ground zero presidential/legislative state in 2020. Trump won the state by 10,704 votes in 2016, but Gretchen Whitmer (D) won the governorship and Democrats every statewide office in 2018. Republicans, however, kept the legislature 22R-16D and 58R-51D. The Republican speaker has been outspokenly critical of Whitmer's COVID-19 lockdown policy and will run against her in 2022.

Illinois Democrats have gained 15 legislative seats since 2012, all in suburban areas. Democrats have had pick-ups in KN (11), MI (8) and MN (15), mostly in their House, where districts are smaller.

Legislatures are politically relevant because they are predictive, productive and self-perpetuating. The party that controls the state's legislature is invariably the party that wins statewide, especially the presidential vote. A state's political trend is gauged by legislative control. TX is trending Democratic: Republicans had 19R-12D and 101R-49D control after 2012; now it's 19R-12D and 83R-67D, a loss of 18 Republican House seats. When a legislature is closely balanced, like CO - 20D-15R and 33R-32D after 2012 and now 19D-16R and 41D-24R - and shifts significantly, a long-term trend is developing favoring the dominant party. Also look at AZ, which was 21R-9D and 40R-20D after 2012, and is now 17R-13D and 31R-29D, a flip of 13 seats.

Another relevant factor is the bench. Legislators are, at least initially, ambitious, energetic and talented enough to have won a local race. They are their party's farm team, the bench from which future statewide and congressional candidates are drawn. They have a geographic base but have proven their electability.

A third factor is the ground game. Legislators over time build a personal organization that generates precinct activity and fund-raising capability. And that creates a Trickle-Up Effect: The legislator's supporters and donors tend to vote for the candidates of the legislator's party higher on the ballot. A majority-party legislator wants to keep his/her party in power, while a minority party legislator just wants to get re-elected.

The final factor is simple lockdown. In NC, a closely balanced state, Republicans took the legislature in 2010, redrew the district lines and "packed" as many Democrats as possible into as few legislative and congressional districts as possible. It was 31R-19D and 67R-52D after 2012, and is now - despite Republicans who tried to ban abortion and cut spending - 28R-21D and 64R-55D, a flip of just six seats. North Carolina's governor (D) has no veto authority, so if Republicans keep their majority in 2020 they can map themselves into power for another decade.

Another very marginal state is FL, critical to Trump's re-election with 29 electoral votes. Republicans have controlled the legislature in Florida since the early 2000s and the governorship since 1998. It was 28R-12D and 81R-39D after 2012, and is now 23R-17D and 72R-46D, a Republican loss of 12 seats. Changing demographics are auspicious for the Democrats, but Republicans will be in control (governor/legislature) in 2021. FL gets two more congressional seats, and Republicans will draw the lines.

Nov. 3 is not just about Trump. The composition of the U.S. House for the upcoming decade is also hanging on the result.