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What's At Stake In State Elections


In little more than two weeks, voters will decide 33 Senate races, all 435 U.S. House seats and some 6,000 state legislative contests. There's more at stake in those state House races than purely local concerns, and that's saying something coming from someone who has such strong opinions about my local trash schedule. I'm joined now by Reid Wilson, national correspondent for The Hill. Welcome.

REID WILSON: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, let's talk general trends. We've heard the president and his predictions of a red wave. What are you seeing state to state?

WILSON: Well, it is almost certain that Democrats are going to pick up quite a large number of these state legislative seats, and that's because Republicans own so many seats to begin with. But if there is some kind of blue wave that develops, if President Trump turns out to be a drag on the Republican ticket, it's going to impact these state legislative seats even more because the average person doesn't know a lot about who their state representative or their state senator may be. And those candidates don't have the millions of dollars to run that, say, somebody running for a U.S. Senate seat or a U.S. House seat might have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they're just going to maybe vote just on the party line as opposed to the individual candidate.

WILSON: State legislative seats tend to be more susceptible to national waves than seats at any other level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about two states where Democrats are hoping to take control. That's Michigan and Wisconsin - two states that were really important in 2016 on the presidential level. What's driving those races?

WILSON: In a lot of cases, it's purely local concerns. Democrats are talking about things like roads. The roads are very bad in parts of Wisconsin, parts of Michigan.


WILSON: And...


WILSON: There we go. And Democrats say that it's effectively an extra road tax because you've got to spend the money to fix your car when it bumps into a particularly bad pothole.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if the situation were reversed, would Republicans be hammering the same issue?

WILSON: Yeah, I think all of these candidates try to make the races as local as possible to insulate themselves from the national wave. And the two states that you mentioned, Michigan and Wisconsin, have been under complete Republican control for the last eight years. So Democrats in both of those states say that the Republican governors and the Republican state legislatures just haven't spent the money to fix the roads.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's look at Connecticut. Democrats there have majorities in both chambers, but they're slim margins. And there, Republicans are hoping to score a flip in one or both. What's the story?

WILSON: In Connecticut, they're talking a lot about the budget. Connecticut has huge pension liabilities. And it's something that they have attacked the incumbent outgoing governor about and the Democratic majorities in both the state Senate, which is tied, actually - the Democratic lieutenant governor breaks that tie - and the state House. But if this becomes a national election, it's hard to see how Republicans pick up any seats, even in a state that's in as much trouble as Connecticut because, again, those national tides just can overwhelm everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, but taxes are a big issue there, too, right?

WILSON: Taxes are a huge issue. And Republicans are talking about how the Democratic tax increases have chased a lot of Connecticut residents away. That's a common theme that I think we hear in a lot of Democratic-run states - that taxes are simply too high.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's something pivotal at stake here, though, other than these local concerns, which is redistricting because, of course, these state legislatures draw congressional district lines. And the census is coming up in 2020.

WILSON: So a lot of the state legislators who were elected this year are going to be around for the redistricting process that begins with the 2020 census that will happen before the 2022 elections. Democrats were caught on the short side after the 2010 election - a big wave for Republicans - when they found themselves on the outs in a lot of these states where state legislatures draw the lines.

Now, if they can win back some of these chambers, some of these governorships, they'll be able to draw lines that are more favorable to them. I mean, the long story short here is that elections that happen in two weeks are going to have ramifications on the control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reid Wilson, national correspondent for The Hill, thank you so much.

WILSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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