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GOP Makes Southern State Gains

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

November 11, 2008 Although the Obama surge, accompanied by an increase in the turnout of African-American voters, helped Democrats across the South in statewide and congressional elections, the returns indicate Republicans did better when it came to Dixie’s state legislatures.

The Republicans gained control of two chambers from the Democrats -- the House of Representatives in Tennessee and the state Senate in Oklahoma.  Thus, when the legislatures convene in January, Republicans will have a majority in seven of the thirteen state senates (FL, GA, KY, OK, SC, TN & TX), while Democrats will control six (AL, AR, LA, MS, NC & VA). On the House side, the GOP will have the upper hand in seven chambers (FL, GA, OK, SC, TN, TX & VA); the Democrats in six (AL, AR, KY, LA, MS & NC). Nationwide, the Democrats gained five legislative chambers, the GOP gained three, including Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Overall, however, the partisan breakdown of Southern legislatures changed little. Southwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans gained three state senate seats and three state house seats.

In Tennessee, the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives and secured their tenuous control of the state senate. The GOP was helped by John McCain, who ran especially strong in the Appalachian South, and carried the Volunteer by 57% to 42%. This wide margin was especially helpful to Republican candidates in East Tennessee. The narrow GOP majority in the lower chamber -- 50R to 49D -- does not, however, guarantee that the House will elect a Republican speaker. Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D), the longest serving speaker in the history of the Tennessee House, has already indicated that he will seek re-election. Current Republican Minority Leader Jason Mumpower has also announced for the post, with neither contender the prohibitive favorite. In any case, the GOP gains are likely to make the remaining two years of the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-TN) more difficult.

In Oklahoma, the GOP already had a majority in the House and added control of the state Senate for the first time, by 26R to 24D. The GOP gains were aided by the McCain landslide -- 66% to 34% -- in the state. As in Tennessee, Gov. Brad Henry is a Democrat and will face a Republican-led legislature for the last two years of his term

Democrats had hoped to win a majority in the Texas House of Representatives, but had to settle for a three-seat gain that put them just three votes shy of control -- 74D to 76R. This gain, albeit small, may play a significant role in the highly contested battle for speaker of the house. The incumbent, Speaker Tom Craddick (R), has served in the House longer than any other Republican. Eight candidates, including three GOPers, have already filed to run against him for the speakership. Craddick is disliked by many liberals and moderates for his alleged heavy-handed conservative leadership. But he is a wiley survivor and in addition to support from most Republicans, has a few Democrats in his corner. Watch this one.

In Arkansas, the most expensive state legislative race in the state’s history was won by state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R), a former GOP state chairman, who was challenged by Joe White. Also, the Razorback legislature now has its first Green Party member, Richard Carroll. He faced only write-in opposition in a North Little Rock district where the Democratic incumbent had been removed from the ballot.

And in South Carolina, for the first time since Reconstruction, an African-American Republican has won a seat in the state’s House of Representatives. Tim Scott had been chairman of the Charleston County Council. He ran for the legislature unopposed, but won a contested primary in June. However, there is less diversity in the state senate, where for the first time in some 30 years, there are no women in South Carolina’s upper chamber.

   
   

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