GOP maintains influence over most legislatures, state policy
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Buoyed by Donald Trump's surprising strength, the Republicans maintained their control over a large majority of state legislatures across the country, setting up the GOP to enact conservative policies and potentially cement its political power for years to come.
Democrats had seen 2016 as a chance to chip away at the large advantage in statehouses the Republicans have enjoyed since 2010. But in state after state, they fell short.
With Tuesday's results, the Republicans will control at least as many legislative chambers as they do now — 68 out of 99, an all-time high for the GOP. And they will have full control of 33 legislatures, up from 31. (That includes Nebraska, which has a technically nonpartisan, single-chamber legislature.) The Democrats will be in full command in 13 states.
Republicans scored major victories by taking control of the Iowa and Minnesota Senates and the Kentucky House. They also held on to their majorities in chambers in several states that had been targeted by the Democrats, and apparently gained a tie in the previously Democratic-controlled Connecticut Senate.
The GOP wave also extended to governor's races, where Republicans were expanding their sizable majority of seats.
The election wasn't a total loss for Democrats. They picked up both chambers in Nevada and the House in New Mexico. They also took a one-seat advantage in the Washington Senate, but they still won't have operating control, because one Democrat caucuses with the Republicans.
The results give Republicans a better chance of directing the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts that the states will undertake after the 2020 census. That, in turn, could help the GOP maintain its grip on power for years.
Some Democrats said they think the party could bounce back and gain the upper hand during redistricting.
"If a Trump presidency at all resemble the Trump candidacy, Democrats nationwide will be buoyed by Republican backlash in the next two election cycles," Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in an email.
More immediately, the Republicans' successes on Tuesday could have implications for joint state-federal programs such as Medicaid, infrastructure funding and energy policy, all of which could change dramatically under a Trump administration.
"It's an obvious and unavoidable trend at this point," said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which ran TV ads on behalf of legislative candidates in Kentucky and other competitive states.
He said he expects more state control of health insurance if President Barack Obama's Affordable Health Care Act is scaled back or repealed. Anti-union right-to-work laws also could expand in the states.
Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political scientist, said he expects rapid change in policies in his state with Republicans now firmly in control, including perhaps programs that use taxpayer money to send students to private schools.
With the Kentucky win, Republicans now control every state legislative chamber in the South. One Democrat ousted was Greg Stumbo, the House speaker and former state attorney general who was a major force in Kentucky politics for decades. He represents a rural district where Hillary Clinton was especially unpopular.
Republicans appeared to hold onto many legislative bodies that Democrats went after hard, including the Senate in West Virginia and the House in Michigan.
In Iowa, the Republicans stunned the Democrats to easily take control of the Senate by picking up at least six seats in the 50-seat chamber. They needed to flip just three districts to win the chamber.
The election swept out Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a powerful Democrat who had been a fixture in state government for three decades.
Democrats had credited Gronstal in recent years with blocking GOP efforts to roll back gay marriage and abortion rights, enact restrictions on voting and limit the clout of public employee unions. They were devastated by his defeat.
"That's very bad for our state," said Democratic activist Julie Stauch, who fought back tears Wednesday. She called Gronstal a party leader who would "wield power for good. And that's lost."
Republicans now control the Iowa governor's office and both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since the late 1990s.
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, New Jersey.