Legislative races not as hot as in '02

Monday, October 18, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Many eyes were on Missouri in the 2002 general elections as one or both state legislative chambers were viewed as having strong potential for a switch in partisan control.

This year neither the Missouri Senate nor House of Representatives, both Republican-led, is on the national watch list of chambers that could face a political shakeup after Nov. 2, according to an elections analyst monitoring statehouse races across the country.

However, Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan policy group based in Denver, wouldn't rule out the possibility of Missouri Democrats retaking the House on Election Day.

"Missouri is a big swing state," Storey said. "Depending upon how aggressively the parties get out the vote, it could be a state where there are some legislative surprises."

Republicans posted a 14-seat net gain to claim the House in 2002 and hold a 90-73 advantage. Democrats need to pick up nine additional districts to achieve a minimum 82-seat majority.

A favorable redistricting map and the onset of term limits, which left most of the chamber's seats up for grabs, helped give Republicans the advantage two years ago. With the same map in place and term limits less of a factor, Democrats face a tougher challenge.

"Anytime you talk about picking up nine seats, that's a fairly herculean task," Storey said.

Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti said the goal can be achieved if the party plays good defense to protect incumbents and puts forth a strong offensive effort to defeat Republicans in swing districts.

"The key for Democrats to win the majority in the House is to retain the seats we have now and really go after those seats where we have a chance to make some pickups," Cardetti said.

If everything breaks right for Republicans, House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said his party could end up with as many as 94 seats. But he acknowledged the party's numbers could dwindle to as low as 86. However, Jetton doesn't foresee Democrats winning back the chamber.

Republicans hold a 20-14 majority in the Senate and are widely expected to make gains in November, particularly in more rural districts where longtime Democratic incumbents are retiring.

Nationally, 44 states are holding legislative elections this year involving 85 chambers. Storey said 28 chambers are currently so closely divided that a switch of just a few seats in any could put a new party in power. Among Missouri's border states, Republicans are in strong position to take the Oklahoma House and the Tennessee Senate.

Republicans currently control 21 state legislatures, including those in Missouri, Iowa and Kansas. Democrats are in charge in 17 states, among them Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Neighboring Kentucky is one of 11 states where each party controls one chamber. The unicameral Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan.

Following the 2002 elections, the GOP claimed a majority of all state legislative seats for the first time in more than a half-century -- but just barely. Of the 7,382 seats nationwide, Republicans hold just 64 more than Democrats.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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