Republican report increases number of state houses up for grabs

A bullish report from the Republican State Leadership Committee released Thursday adds Illinois to the list of Democrat-controlled state houses in play this election season.

The report increases the number of expected Republican pick-ups to six legislative chambers — adding the North Carolina and Michigan houses, with at least 11 other Democrat-controlled chambers solidly in play. As the organization has in the past, it predicts that Democrats will make no gains this election season in state house control.

“Voters have dramatically moved away from the Democratic Party and in the direction of a strong crop of fresh new Republican candidates seeking office,” the report says.

The control of governorships and state legislatures is being watched — and funded — by both political parties because states are tasked with redrawing congressional district boundaries following the 2010 Census.

The Democrats’ top redistricting strategist, Michael Sargeant, said the GOP predictions were “largely a fundraising gimmick to fire up the base.” Sargeant acknowledges that this is a tough year for Democrats but says his party will retain control of many state houses. And he dismissed suggestions that the Illinois House could shift from Republican to Democratic control. “That is not rooted in reality,” he said.

Both parties are raising tens of millions of dollars anticipating that state legislatures will be redrawing their congressional maps. In most states, it is then up to legislators to draw new districts to elect members of Congress — subject to gubernatorial veto.

The Republican State Leadership Committee plans to spend more than $40 million to influence redistricting this cycle. Sargeant’s group, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, has a budget of about $20 million and is aligned with other Democratic-leaning organizations spending a comparable amount.

Democrats currently control 26 state legislatures while the GOP holds 14. Statehouses in nine states are split, with one chamber controlled by each party. Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.