States of the Union

George Bush and John Kerry aren’t the only office-seekers cooing at babies, petting cows and giving high-fives this campaign season. Although the run for the White House has garnered most of the media attention thus far, races for control of state legislatures will be the most competitive in years.

Among the 50 states, “25 have legislative chambers that could switch party control with a shift of just three seats or less,” writes Daniel B. Wood of the Christian Science Monitor.

The Democrats lost their half-century-long dominance in the 2002 election. Of the more than 7,000 state legislative seats in the country, the Republicans now hold a 60-seat majority.

Who cares? You should. Control of state legislatures means control over a wide range of social and pocketbook issues, ranging from distribution of government aid for health care and education, to gay marriages and tax reform.

Voter interest in those local races can also affect turnout for the Presidential race, especially in battleground states, writes Wood.

So, with a lot riding on these races, how does the early coverage stack up? Campaign Desk chose three states mentioned in Wood’s piece as having close and crucial races: Maine, Oregon and Missouri. A quick Lexis-Nexis search turned up a mixed bag of reporting, most of which is as creative as a grocery list.

One exception was the March 16 article by Joshua L. Weinstein of Maine’s Portland Press Herald, who wrote a fast-moving profile of the upcoming races, predicting an “intense” contest, with all but one seat in the House and Senate up for grabs.

An Associated Press story about Oregon’s primary describes the May 18 vote as a “non-event” and makes no mention of the state-house contests. The election story in the Columbia [Missouri] Daily Tribune doesn’t stir any juices, either.

Not surprisingly, the best primary election coverage by a mile appears in Roll Call, which has been covering Congress since 1955. But with subscriptions to the publication starting at $265, it’s likely the voters in Portland, Salem or St. Louis sit down with something other than Roll Call each morning. Too bad. They’re missing a lot.

Susan Q. Stranhan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.