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Trump win only part of GOP wave

WASHINGTON — Republicans didn’t just win the White House with Donald Trump’s election Tuesday; they also retained control of the U.S. House and Senate, captured two-thirds of the nation’s legislative chambers and more governors’ offices than they’ve held in nearly a century.

Buoyed by Trump’s surprising strength, the elections set up the Republican Party to enact conservative policies and potentially cement its political power for years to come.

a00_jd_13nov_gopboxMatthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said last week’s elections portend dark days for Democrats in state and national politics – for the next two years at minimum. “The GOP emerges from this election in a totally dominant national position,” Wilson said “They control both houses of Congress, the presidency and much of the local-level politics, and they are poised to maintain a conservative Supreme Court. It also means the Democratic Party has some real soul-searching to do because they are completely shut out of power at this point.”

On the West Coast, some Democrats in Oregon and California were so despondent they moved toward ballot initiatives that would have those states secede.

At the grass roots-level, Democrats viewed 2016 as a chance to chip away at a large advantage Republicans have enjoyed in statehouses since 2010. But in state after state Democrats fell short.

With Tuesday’s results, Republicans will control 68 out of 99 legislative chambers, an all-time high for the GOP. And they will have full control of 33 legislatures, up from 31. (That includes Nebraska, which has a technically nonpartisan, single-chamber legislature.) Democrats will be in full command in just 13 states.

Against the tide

New Mexico was a rare bright spot for Democrats on the national map. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the state by 8 percentage points – not that it mattered in the final analysis. Democratic Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque and Ben Ray Luján of Santa Fe easily won re-election, while Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, retained his southern New Mexico seat. Pearce, who publicly backed Trump throughout the general election campaign, is now presumably in line for a higher-profile role in Republican-dominated Washington.

Republicans lost two seats in the U.S. Senate, reducing their majority to 52-48. The Democrats’ main tool for blocking a Republican agenda in the still narrowly divided Senate is the cloture rule. The rule requires consent of 60 Senators to move legislation to a vote. Democrats have grumbled about the cloture rule, and under the leadership of New Mexico’s Sen. Tom Udall, they succeeded in watering it down slightly early in the current Congress. Now, some are speculating that Republicans could exercise the so-called “nuclear” option to do away with the 60-vote cloture rule on non-budget matters.

Democrats in New Mexico recaptured the state House after losing control of it in the 2014 election, and they added to their numbers in the state Senate, which they already controlled. But longtime state Senate Democratic boss Michael Sanchez was defeated in an intense and expensive campaign heavily backed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Democrats picked up apparently five and possibly as many as six GOP-controlled seats in the House. Two House races appear headed for recounts, but in one of them the Democratic margin is fairly significant.

Democrats could hold a 38-32 advantage – the exact breakdown will depend on the results of two pending vote recounts – in the House chamber when the 60-day legislative session starts in January. Democrats also expanded their majority in the 42-member state Senate.

Governor margin

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The GOP wave extended to governor races, where Republicans expanded their sizable majority of seats. As chair of the Republican Governors Association, Martinez can claim credit for helping GOP governors around the country reach their highest numbers since 1922.

The election wasn’t a total loss for Democrats. They picked up both chambers in Nevada and the House in New Mexico, and they also took a one-seat advantage in the Washington Senate, but they still won’t have operating control, because one Democrat caucuses with the Republicans.

The results give Republicans a better chance of directing the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts that the states will undertake after the 2020 census. That, in turn, could help the GOP maintain its grip on power for years.

Some Democrats said they think the party could bounce back and gain the upper hand during redistricting.

“If a Trump presidency at all resembles the Trump candidacy, Democrats nationwide will be buoyed by Republican backlash in the next two election cycles,” Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in an email.

More immediately, the Republicans’ successes on Tuesday could have implications for joint state-federal programs such as Medicaid, infrastructure funding and energy policy, all of which could change dramatically under a Trump administration.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., an early backer of Hillary Clinton, said that while he was disappointed in the Democratic wipeout nationally on Tuesday, he remained sanguine about his own situation and tried to put a positive spin on the losses.

“It’s certainly not what I was hoping for, but we’ve got to go back and do what’s right for our constituents and our state,” he said.

Heinrich successfully worked with Republicans to get the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-end health insurance policies delayed in the current Congress and he said he would look for more bipartisan opportunities to legislate. For example, the Democrat said he would be willing to work with Trump and the GOP to rebuild American infrastructure or help military veterans.

“The opportunities in the Senate to legislate are there in both the majority and the minority,” Heinrich said. “You just have to find the things you can work on and deliver for your state. I’ve found this job to be every bit as challenging and rewarding in the minority as in the majority.”

Lujan Grisham said she also would “look at places and ways we can agree” with Republicans. But she suggested one of the big looming fights – the Republican push to repeal, or at least largely dismantle, the Affordable Care Act – could be especially brutal.

“I think it will be challenging to get a bipartisan agreement on health care,” she predicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 


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