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What Is the Democratic Ceiling Across Upper Midwestern State Legislatures?

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The 2006 election saw Democratic takeovers of 3 of the 6 Upper Midwestern legislative chambers previously controlled by the Republicans. Democrats now control 5 chambers (the Iowa House and Senate, the Minnesota House and Senate, and the Wisconsin Senate) with the Republicans controlling 3 (the South Dakota House and Senate and the Wisconsin Assembly).

The Democratic gains in 2006 were unprecedented. Since the total number of seats in these 8 chambers settled at 588 after redistricting in 1972, the largest net Democratic pick-up prior to 2006 was 52 seats, from 1972 to 1974. The DFL in the Minnesota House led the way that year – adding 27 seats to their column. Democrats also picked up 17 seats in the Iowa House.

But the gains in 2006 were even larger: Democrats netted 56 seats, picking up seats in all 8 legislative bodies.

During these 18 election cycles since 1972, Republicans hold the all-time record, gaining 65 seats in 1978 (in 1994, during the Republican Revolution, the GOP only gained 47 state legislative seats in the Upper Midwest).

After the big gains in 2006, have the Democrats reached their ceiling? Not yet.

After the 2006 election, Democrats held 313 seats, compared to 275 for the Republicans. In 2008, Democrats are poised to increase their advantage across the region. Expectations are high that Democrats can launch a competitive battle for the South Dakota Senate as well as the Wisconsin Assembly. Historically, there is a bit more room for Democratic gains. For example, from 1986 through 1992, Democrats held between 325 and 331 seats in the region.

If Democrats should win one of these two chambers in 2008, they would control 6 chambers in the region for the first time since 1992. If they should pick up both, they would control 7 in the region for the first time since 1974, after Richard Nixon's resignation.

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The North Carolina U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis may go down to the wire next Tuesday, but along the way Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh is poised to set a state record for a non-major party candidate. Haugh, who previously won 1.5 percent of the vote in the Tar Heel State's 2002 race, has polled at or above five percent in 10 of the last 12 polls that included his name. The current high water mark for a third party or independent candidate in a North Carolina U.S. Senate election is just 3.3 percent, recorded by Libertarian Robert Emory back in 1992. Only one other candidate has eclipsed the three percent mark - Libertarian Christopher Cole with 3.1 percent in 2008.


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