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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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Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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