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Democrats take aim at eight key states

After being wiped out by a Republican wave in 2010, Democrats are hoping to turn legislative chambers blue in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania State Senate
A view of the Pennsylvania State Senate at the Capitol in Harrisburg.

Democrats announced plans on Tuesday to target legislative chambers in eight states in 2014, part of a longer term effort to regain their footing after Republicans took over statehouses around the country in 2010.

According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party believes it has a strong shot at winning majorities in the Arizona Senate, Arkansas House, Iowa House, Michigan House, Montana Senate, New Hampshire Senate, Pennsylvania Senate, and Wisconsin Senate. The national party apparatus plans to assist state turnout operations and implement a new data program that looks to build on President Obama’s campaign technology.

“I think we're in a great position now to make gains, win some new majorities, hold where we are and to make key investments and key gains in chambers we can flip in 2016, 2018 and 2020,” DLCC executive director Michael Sargeant said in a call with reporters.

Several of the states named as targets are places where there has been a split between federal and state level voting. In Wisconsin, Obama won handily in 2008 and 2012 while Republicans, led by Governor Scott Walker, took complete control of state government and fought a contentious battle to restrict collective bargaining by public employees. Michigan and Pennsylvania are two other places on the list where Republicans gained total control in 2010 even as Obama won each state twice.

“Due to the 2010 Republicans' tidal wave across the country, Republicans control literally every aspect of state government in Michigan despite the fact that Michigan is generally a blue state,” Michigan House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel told reporters. “They have not hesitated to use their absolute monopoly on power on the state to reward and benefit their corporate donors at the expense of everyday people. “

In Michigan and Pennsylvania in particular, polls suggest that Republicans may have gotten too far in front of their state’s political leanings, creating an environment ripe for a Democratic takeover.

A survey in Michigan this week by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that only 24% of voters had a favorable opinion of GOP stat legislators versus 56% who had an unfavorable opinion. Democrats, who were evenly split at 39% favorable to 39% unfavorable, enjoyed a 48-34 advantage in a generic ballot between the two parties. In Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country and is trailing his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf by a margin of more than 20 points in multiple polls.

In Iowa, Democrats narrowly control the Senate and Republicans narrowly control the House. Republican Governor Terry Branstad is expected to easily win re-election in 2014 and if Democrats lose their hold on the state legislature, he could pass a raft of conservative legislation.

Michael Gronstal, Iowa’s Democratic Senate Majority Leader, told reporters that the GOP’s track record in similar states they had taken over, as well as their agenda in Iowa, would bolster his party in 2014.

“The fact is Republicans have badly overreached in the states where they’re in control and that’s true of Iowa,” Gronstal said.  

But Republicans have plenty of opportunities of their own to go on the offensive, with party leaders targeting at least nine legislative chambers in states like Colorado, New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, and West Virginia. With Obama’s approval ratings mired in the low 40's and Republicans counting on a turnout advantage in the midterms, they could make even greater gains this year.