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Democrats win Michigan and Minnesota state legislatures, defying expectations

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Midterm elections are usually bad for the president's party, but last night held some surprises at the state level. Democrats flipped the House and Senate in Michigan's legislature, and Minnesota's Senate also turned blue.

Reporter Alan Greenblatt has been following state legislatures for Governing magazine. He joins me now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ALAN GREENBLATT: Hi. Thanks for having me on.

NADWORNY: So as I said, Michigan and Minnesota are the big upsets. Can you tell us the significance of Democrats gaining control of those state legislatures?

GREENBLATT: Well, certainly, in those states, they'll be able to push an agenda that they couldn't have otherwise. In Minnesota, Democrats will want to codify abortion rights, which they couldn't do if Republicans held the state Senate. Democrats in Michigan are talking about repealing that state's right-to-work law, an anti-union law that passed under the last Republican governor that they had. But it's just significant that Democrats won anywhere. Typically, we'd expect the president's party to lose control in legislatures, and instead they won.

NADWORNY: Yeah. In your report this morning, you said, quote, "Democrats have defied history." Just how unusual is it for a sitting president's party to win seats in midterms?

GREENBLATT: Highly unusual. So if we go back all the way to 1900, there have been 60 midterms - 6-0 midterms. The president's party has gained seats in state legislatures only twice in the last 120 years. Once was 1934, when Republicans were still taking a beating for the Great Depression. And then, 20 years ago, in 2002, George W. Bush was president, and Republicans were still enjoying a great deal of public support following the September 11 terrorist attacks. So it's been 20 years.

Typically, on average, the party in the White House loses more than 400 seats nationwide in legislatures during midterms, and it's basically a wash in terms of seats. Republicans still control. They've been dominant at the state level in legislatures ever since 2010. They've had big majorities. They still hold more legislatures than Democrats, but they won no new ground last night.

NADWORNY: These historic wins for Democrats on the state level, especially in battleground states like Michigan - what do they tell us about the 2024 presidential election coming up? Like, what do they signal?

GREENBLATT: Well, obviously, if you're a Democrat, you're glad that the party did well winning not just legislative seats, but governors races in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Arizona, Nevada - some of the other battleground states out West are still - still have not been called. But, you know, it's hopeful for Democrats. And between this - the Democrats keeping legislative control and both Republicans and Democrats who are not election deniers winning secretary of state races in the battleground states, 2024 might be just a bit less combative than we would have predicted, say, a week ago.

NADWORNY: How fascinating. And just in the last, you know, 10 seconds, what does all this mean for 2024?

GREENBLATT: Well, between now and 2024, states are going to be doing a lot more on policy than Congress. Congress is going to be gridlocked. We're going to have red states and blue states going in totally different directions with passing lots of laws when it comes not only to abortion and things we've been hearing about, but education funding and crime, climate, you name it.

NADWORNY: Everything.

That was Alan Greenblatt. He's a senior staff writer at Governing magazine. Thanks for joining us.

GREENBLATT: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Sarah Handel
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.