Democrats take control of state legislatures across nation

By The Associated Press

Democrats took control of the New York Senate Tuesday, and with that, all of state government, the biggest prize in a dozen contests for partisan control of state legislatures nationwide.

Elsewhere, Democrats won several seats in an effort to take power in the Delaware House and were in a close fight to hold a majority in the Indiana House. Republicans broke ties to gain control of the Tennessee and Oklahoma senates, and fought to take back a majority in the Pennsylvania House.

Nationwide, the final outcome was far from clear in several state legislatures where the balance of control was so close that one-party domination was at stake, and with it greater power to shape domestic policy and draw congressional districts. Overall, 44 states voted on state lawmakers.

In New York, the Democratic victories ended 40 years of GOP Senate control and marked the first time since 1935 that Democrats dominated all of the decision-making bodies of government. Leaders had hoped that voter enthusiasm and registration drives would benefit their candidates down the ticket.

That was the cautious hope of Democrats nationwide, though leaders also worried that gains they had made in Republican districts in 2004 and 2006 would limit their chances this year.

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Republicans across the country were counting on local issues that drive these races to overcome what polls indicated was a tough year for the GOP nationally.

Going into the election, Democrats held their strongest majority in more than a decade, controlling the legislatures in 23 states, while Republicans dominate in 14. Twelve states were split, and Nebraska is nonpartisan. Overall, Democrats held nearly 55 percent of all legislative seats.

Other contested chambers were in Montana, Nevada, Wisconsin, Arizona, Ohio and even Texas, the conservative state that gave the nation President George W. Bush, where Democrats saw a chance to win back the House.

Winning a majority in a House or Senate chamber not only gives a political party greater say over policies in their state and the shape of congressional districts, it also supercharges a party’s opportunities, leaders said.

In Illinois, when Democrats took control in the Senate after the 2002 elections, the majority threw a spotlight on a young state senator named Barack Obama and enabled him to pass several pieces of legislation on his way to becoming the party’s national star.

The contests drew attention and money from far beyond each state’s lines, with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee raising more than $6 million for legislative races alone and Republicans nationally raising nearly $20 million for all non-gubernatorial state races.

National leaders pay attention because of the impact on the shape of Congress. Whether a state gains population and congressional seats, loses them or stays the same, districts get redrawn.

This year perhaps more than most, economic worries across the country are echoing in these most-local of races.