Half the battle

Some 50 percent of all Massachusetts voters will get to choose between Democratic and Republican candidates for state representative this fall, thanks to the “Team Reform” slate of GOP contenders being championed by Gov. Mitt Romney. (For where these contests are underway, see Head Count) To the Republican Party, this is a classic case of a glass being half-full. Just two years ago, only 50 of the state’s 160 state representative districts (31 percent) featured candidates from both major parties, making Massachusetts the second least competitive state in the nation (ahead of South Carolina, which is even less competitive this year). With 81 House seats drawing both Republican and Democratic contenders, the Bay State has moved up from an abysmal 49th to a more middling 31st in our ranking of states as measured by two-party competition. Massachusetts still ranks lower than any Northeastern state outside of Pennsylvania, but with 10 seats currently in Republican hands going unchallenged by the Democrats, it’s at least mathematically possible (if exceedingly unlikely) for the Republicans to gain clear control of the House of Representatives here, something that couldn’t be said two years ago.

Romney can take some credit for the GOP fielding the biggest crop of legislative candidates since 1990, but one of his neighbors did even better this year. Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, stymied by a lower legislative body that’s almost as dominated by Democrats as the one on Beacon Hill, has potential allies running in almost three-quarters of the House seats in that state. That’s up from 48 percent in 2002, giving the Ocean State the biggest jump in partisan competitiveness outside of Alaska and West Virginia. Every page on the Web site of the Rhode Island Republican Party carries the banner headline “Let’s Give Governor Carcieri Veto Power in 2004!” Romney would love to pull off the same feat—installing enough GOP members to sustain at least some of his vetoes—but he would need a much higher percentage of his candidates to win.

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RANK

STATE

SIZE OF LOWER BODY

% OF SEATS HELD BY MAJORITY PARTY

% OF SEATS CONTESTED BY BOTH MAJOR PARTIES, 2002

% OF SEATS CONTESTED BY BOTH MAJOR PARTIES, 2004

1.

MINNESOTA

134

61 R

95

99

2.

MICHIGAN

110

57 R

99

98

3.

NEW JERSEY (‘03)*

80

59 D

94

96

4.

MAINE

151

53 D

85

95

5.

HAWAII

51

71 D

88

94

6.

CALIFORNIA

80

60 D

89

93

7.

WEST VIRGINIA

100

68 D

65

90

8.

NORTH DAKOTA**

94

70 R

90

84

 

OHIO

99

63 R

89

84

10.

NEVADA

42

55 D

76

80

11.

MONTANA

100

53 R

73

78

12.

OREGON

60

58 R

75

77

13.

COLORADO

65

57 R

74

75

14.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

400

70 R

65

74

15.

ALASKA

40

68 R

45

73

 

RHODE ISLAND

75

84 D

48

73

17.

WASHINGTON

98

53 D

70

72

18.

MARYLAND (‘02)*

141

70 D

70

70

19.

NEW YORK

150

69 D

71

67

 

IOWA

100

54 R

62

63

21.

OKLAHOMA

101

52 D

51

63

 

UTAH

75

75 R

65

63

23.

MISSOURI

163

55 R

72

62

24.

CONNECTICUT

151

62 D

73

61

 

LOUISIANA (‘03)***

105

65 D

52

61

26.

VERMONT

150

49 R

61

59

27.

INDIANA

100

51 D

52

57

.

WISCONSIN

99

59 R

48

57

29.

DELAWARE

41

71 R

56

54

30.

SOUTH DAKOTA

70

70 R

67

53

31.

IDAHO

70

77 R

71

51

 

MASSACHUSETTS

160

85 D

31

51

33.

ALABAMA (‘02)*

105

60 D

50

50

 

KENTUCKY

100

65 D

32

50

35.

ARIZONA

60

65 R

55

48

.

ILLINOIS

118

56 D

48

48

 

NEBRASKA****

49

n/a

58

48

 

TENNESSEE

99

55 D

54

48

39.

KANSAS

125

64 R

44

44

 

MISSISSIPPI (‘03)*

122

61 D

64

44

41.

PENNSYLVANIA

203

54 R

57

43

42.

NORTH CAROLINA

120

51 R

52

42

43.

GEORGIA

180

59 D

41

40

.

TEXAS

150

59 R

45

40

 

WYOMING

60

77 R

38

40

46.

NEW MEXICO

70

61 D

41

39

47.

FLORIDA

120

68 R

34

30

 

VIRGINIA (‘03)*

100

61 R

51

30

49.

ARKANSAS

100

70 D

34

28

50.

SOUTH CAROLINA

124

59 R

28

23

*No lower-body seats are up for election this year. “Contested” figures are for the last statewide legislative elections.

**North Dakota Assembly members serve four-year terms; the 2004 “contested” figure applies only to the 46 seats up for election this year.

***Louisiana holds “jungle primaries” that allow the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, to advance to the general election. The “contested” figures include any race with more than one candidate. Last year, only 19 percent of the seats had announced candidates from both major parties.

Meet the Author

****Candidates for Nebraska’s unicameral legislature are listed without party affiliation, and winners serve four-year terms. The 2004 “contested” figure applies only to 25 seats up for election this year.

Sources: Partisan make-up is from the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org) as of September 8, 2004. Percentages of unopposed seats are from the secretary of state’s office, or the equivalent agency, in each state.