Democrats outperform expectations in state legislatures around the country

An election worker sorts ballots
An election worker sorts ballots in Grand Junction, Colo. (Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images)

On a night of many surprising successes for Democrats, one of the biggest shocks was the party’s overperformance in state legislative races.

Two years after underperforming in state legislatures, Democrats were on track Wednesday to increase the number of states where they control one or both chambers, defying expectations.

Legislation in Congress is often stalled due to partisan gridlock, and so laws crafted at the state level are increasingly impacting the lives of everyday Americans. Abortion laws are one example of this, but only the most high-profile.

State legislatures also have a significant role in certifying the results of an election in most states. Certifying election results was largely devoid of drama in the past, but that changed in 2020, when Republicans in a few states tried to send fake electors to Congress through state legislators.

Organizations that spent big money on these races took a victory lap while throwing shade at national Democrats.

“Our electoral work, as part of a nearly $60M investment in states this cycle, made all the difference — despite a national party that overlooks & under invests in state legislatures,” tweeted the States Project, a group started by former New York Democratic state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Democratic donor Adam Pritzker to target state legislature races.

Forward Majority, another Democratic group, which poured $20 million of its own into state legislature races, called the results a "political thunderclap."

Predicting state legislature races is not a big business yet, but those who currently do it were forecasting a rough night for Democrats.

Voters cast their ballots in Irvine, Calif.
Voters cast their ballots in Irvine, Calif. (Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, analysts were eating their words. “Democrats are outrunning our forecasts in most states so far,” tweeted Chaz Nuttycombe, director of CNalysis, which tracks state legislature elections.

Before the election, Nuttycombe — along with other analysts — believed that the only state where Democrats might flip control of a legislature was Michigan, where they were hoping to take control of the state Senate. Nuttycombe told Yahoo News two weeks ago that he didn’t think even that would happen, and gave Democrats only a 39% chance of getting the Michigan Senate.

Instead, Democrats won control of both the Senate and the House in Michigan, and now have a trifecta, after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won reelection.

Analysts predicted that Democrats were at risk of losing control of four chambers in states where they currently held control: the Maine House, the Minnesota House, the Oregon Senate and the Alaska House.

In Maine, Democrats retained control of both chambers, and Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, coasted to reelection.

And in Minnesota, Democrats not only defended their House majority, but they flipped control of the state Senate. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s reelection gave Democrats a second new trifecta that had not been expected.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer celebrate their election night victory in Detroit. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

In Oregon, Republicans made so little progress that they were struggling to flip even one seat to eliminate the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate.

Alaska results were not yet available.

In Nevada, Democrats also looked like they would keep control of both chambers of the state Legislature. Normally, in a midterm election the party in the White House loses state legislative seats. Prior to this election, Republicans had trifectas — in which they control both chambers of the legislature as well as the governorship — in 23 states to Democrats’ 14, but Democrats are sure to add at least the trifectas in Michigan and Minnesota, and possibly more.

In addition to defending these legislatures, Democrats looked poised to pick up ground in Republican-controlled Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania House, where Republicans had held a 113-to-90 majority, Democrats were close to flipping control of that chamber and had picked up several seats in the state Senate.

Republicans were breathing a bit easier in Arizona, where it looked like they would likely retain control of both chambers.

Possibly the only highlight for Republicans in state capitols was the increase in GOP control of the Florida Legislature, where they locked in a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers. That will give reelected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, a free hand as he contemplates challenging former President Donald Trump for the party’s presidential nomination in 2024.