The Republicans' expected gains next week go way beyond Congress. The GOP could capture new Senate or House majorities in a dozen to 18 states — along with critical new power to redraw district maps and influence elections for a decade to come.
Three of the biggest prizes are New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. All three states are expected to lose seats in Congress as a result of the 2010 census, and that's sure to ignite boundary fights. A party's congressman on the wrong end of redistricting can find the district he's represented for years no longer exists.
Democrats have hopes, too. They aim to take away state Senate control in Michigan and Kentucky and the House in Texas and Tennessee. Texas would be a particular victory, since it seems likely to have four more seats to divvy up under the new census. But none of the analysts contacted by The Associated Press predicted the Democrats would succeed in any of those states.
Both houses in Florida, a state that's expected to gain two seats in Congress, are likely to remain under GOP control.
Importance of down-ticket races
While most of the attention in next week's midterm elections is focused on races for Congress and governor, results in scores of local, down-ticket races carry far-reaching implications, likely to dilute Democrats' dominance in the once-every-10-years redrawing of political district boundaries for the U.S. House.
In most states, redistricting falls to the Legislature, which will draw new boundaries based on the 2010 census. The party in control has a huge advantage and can draw district lines that could determine whether Republicans or Democrats dominate a state's congressional delegation for an entire decade, and possibly even control of the U.S. House itself.
"There's a big historic trend that points to this being a Republican election," said Tim Storey, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's tough for the party in the White House to win in midterm elections at the state legislative level, and Democrats are really at a peak of seats right now."
If Republicans pull off a landslide next week, Storey sees the GOP taking majorities away from Democrats in as many as 18 legislative chambers.
In New York, Democrats took a slim, two-seat majority in the state Senate in 2008, giving the party full control of the Legislature. The Empire State is expected to lose two congressional seats in the upcoming reapportionment. The GOP needs to retake the state Senate to have any voice when those new lines are redrawn next year.
Ohio also may lose two congressional seats in redistricting for 2012. The GOP needs a gain of four in the state House to seize control in that chamber, and Republicans already hold the state Senate. They also could take over the governor's office since Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is in a close race with Republican challenger John Kasich.
Redistricting is also on the line in Pennsylvania, where the state is likely to lose one congressional seat. Democrats hold the majority in the Pennsylvania House but only by six seats. Republicans hold the majority in the state Senate and should keep it.
Republicans also could capture the governor's office in Pennsylvania. Tom Corbett leads in the polls against Democratic nominee Dan Onorato in the race to replace Democrat Ed Rendell.
Democrats' previous advantage
Over the past four decades, Democrats have enjoyed at least a 2-to-1 advantage in redistricting authority, said Carl Klarner, a political scientist at Indiana State University who has studied more than 2,100 state legislative elections from 1950 forward. Klarner sees sweeping change in the Nov. 2 midterms, predicting Republicans will pick up 15 chambers, giving them control of 51 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers.
While legislatures draw the lines for U.S. House and state legislative seats in most states, governors in about three dozen states can veto redistricting plans. Some states use independent commissions to draw the lines.
Currently, Democrats control both chambers in almost twice as many states as Republicans — 27 states for the Democrats compared with 14 states for the GOP. In eight states, legislative control is split. All told, Democrats have control in 60 state chambers, Republicans in 36. Two are tied and Nebraska is unicameral.
Democrats know they have tight contests in at least nine states where their majority is threatened: Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, in addition to New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In New Hampshire and Alabama, Democratic majorities in both chambers are in play. Republican also have their eye on North Carolina, where Democrats now control both the House and Senate.
"I'd be surprised if there were Democratic pickups this year just given the public opinion climate and the bad economy," said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. "The places where Democrats have an opportunity — Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky — are all conservative areas."
The big prize: Texas
Texas is the biggest prize because the state is expected to gain four U.S. House seats from the census. Democrats need a net gain of only three seats to take control of the 150-member Texas House. But James Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, considers that a long shot.
"Smart money is betting on small to medium Republican gains," said Henson. "Texas is like the rest of the country in these legislative races except more so to the extent that it's a very pro-Republican, pro-conservative environment."