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Democrats gain in state legislatures on Obama's coattails

(Reuters) - Democrats were on track to capture more state legislative seats than Republicans in Tuesday's election, as President Barack Obama's re-election spilled into local races, the National Conference of State Legislatures said on Wednesday.

"It's still too early to say how many seats Democrats have netted, but clearly they are going to wind up netting seats in state legislatures, and they are also going to wind up winning over more chambers than the (Republicans) this time around," said NCSL analyst Tim Storey.

Democrats wrested the Colorado House of Representatives, the New York Senate and likely the New Hampshire House from Republicans and gained control of the Oregon House, which had been evenly split, the bipartisan NCSL reported.

The president's party also took back both chambers of the Minnesota and Maine legislatures that had gone to the Republicans in 2010's midterm election.

Michael Sergeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said he expects his party to pick up at least 300 legislative seats.

"We were successful even in places where the president wasn't successful," he said.

Storey said redistricting, a process that allows the dominant party in legislatures to determine voting districts in most states every 10 years, was a huge help to parties in control, resulting in bigger majorities for Democrats in Illinois and for Republicans in North Carolina.

'BRIGHT SPOTS'

There were "definitely some bright spots" for Republicans on election night, Storey said.

Republicans took the Wisconsin Senate, where Democrats had held a short-lived majority as a result of a June recall election touched off by a Republican-led effort to limit the power of public sector unions in that state.

They also gained control of the House and Senate in Arkansas, which was the last southern state in which Democrats were the majority in both chambers, the NCSL reported. Alaska's tied Senate also swung to Republicans.

Republicans defended most of the chambers they won in 2010, said Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

The election pared the number of legislatures with split party control to three - Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire - from eight. It left the Virginia Senate as the only evenly split chamber, but where the Republican lieutenant governor can break a tie, Storey said.

Republicans now control both chambers in 26 states, the same as before the election, while Democratic legislatures total 19, up from 15.

Tuesday's election results left Republicans in charge of 56 chambers, while Democrats control 41, Storey said.

Heading into the election, Republicans controlled 59 legislative chambers, while Democrats controlled 36 and three were tied, according to the NCSL. Nebraska's single-chamber legislature is nonpartisan.

There were more than 6,000 races for state lawmaker on ballots nationwide, accounting for 82 percent of legislative seats.

Four years ago, the battle for state legislative seats ended in somewhat of a stalemate between the parties. But in 2010, Republicans made big gains, riding on a political wave that gave the party control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

(Reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Vicki Allen and Xavier Briand)

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