When political parties experience moderate-to-strong wave elections, their candidates for governor, state legislature, and other down-ballot races often prosper. Going into 2016, however, some analysts believed that Republicans had already come close to maximizing their potential dominance of state governments — holding 31 of the 50 state governorships and 30 of the 49 legislatures that are partisan and bicameral. Even if Donald Trump somehow won the presidency and the GOP did well in congressional races, these analysts thought, Republicans would only be able to limit some inevitable backsliding given their 2016 starting point in state governments.
Even into early October, this scenario seemed the most likely one. Most Republican candidates for governor in competitive races were behind. Democrats were hoping to make major gains in legislative chambers. But the races tightened in the final weeks. Of the five competitive gubernatorial contests in 2016, GOP candidates have now won four of them — Eric Holcomb in Indiana, Eric Greitens in Missouri, Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, and Phil Scott in Vermont. Only in North Carolina did the Democratic nominee, Roy Cooper, come out ahead of the Republican, incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory. But the margin is less than 5,000 votes, or one-tenth of one percent of the total vote. Tens of thousands of provisional and absentees ballots have yet to be counted, and there are potential legal challenges, so the North Carolina race may remain unsettled for weeks. Assuming Cooper wins, Republicans will have achieved a net gain of two governorships, yielding a partisan split of 33-16-1. If McCrory pulls it out, you’d up that to 34-15-1, which would be an astounding feat.
As for state legislatures, Democrats had their best Election Night in Nevada, where they took control of both chambers, as well as the New Mexico house and (officially) the Washington Senate, where the minority Republicans may still be in control thanks to a Democrat who caucuses with them. Republicans captured the Kentucky house, the Iowa senate, and the Minnesota senate while tying the Connecticut senate. With the Kentucky results, the GOP now controls every legislative chamber in the South.
Although control of a few chambers remains up in the air at this writing, the 2016 cycle has proven to be a good one.“In short, Republicans bested expectations,” wrote Dan Dorio, an elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Having already reached the peak of control in party history, Republicans will maintain a similar level of control, in a year when many expected Democrats to net seats and chambers.”