Democrats Chip Away at the Republican Firewall

The votes are still being counted, but at this point Democrats have picked up 28 seats in the House of Representatives. That is a major accomplishment—especially when it comes to holding Trump accountable—but if falls far short of what should have been expected in an election where Democrats won the popular vote by about 7 percent. As has been pointed out, when Republicans won the popular vote by a similar margin in 2010, they picked up 63 House seats. Tara Goshan explains why that happens.

For years, Republicans, with their hands on the levers in state legislatures and governors’ mansions, have made it incredibly hard for Democrats to make gains in Congress, redrawing congressional boundaries to favor Republicans and passing laws that make it harder for Americans to vote.

Following the 2020 census, congressional districts will once again be redrawn. That is why the midterm elections for governors and state legislatures were so important this year. The results of the latter are that Democrats won five legislative chambers from Republicans and the Connecticut Senate went from tied to blue. As the National Conference of State Legislatures notes, that represents a modest shift, not a blowout. Here’s what the map looks like now:

There is still a sea of red, which is because the gains made by Democrats came primarily in states where they already controlled one chamber. In other words, what we see is a hardening of the divide between red and blue states. That is primarily due to the fact that redistricting in state legislatures is also controlled by state governments.

But it isn’t just state legislatures that have a say in redistricting. The chief executive in each state has a role to play as well. We learned that lesson very well here in Minnesota following the 2010 census when Republicans controlled both chambers and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton vetoed their gerrymandered districts, ultimately sending the process to the neutral courts to decide. At this point Democrats picked up six governorships on Tuesday. If we add those to the changes in state legislatures, here’s what the map looks like:

That brings in a sea of gold. Going into the midterms, Republicans had total control of the government in 24 states. That was mitigated in Michigan, Wisconsin and Kansas with the election of Democratic governors. When it comes to breaking down the Republican firewall, governors races—which can’t be gerrymandered—will continue to be critical.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.