A lot can change in 12 years.
In 2004, before the November election, Oklahoma Democrats controlled 80 of the 149 seats in the Legislature.
But after suffering legislative losses in each of the next seven elections – they lost a net of seven seats Tuesday – Democrats now hold just 32 seats. And the party may have trouble gaining back substantial ground.
That’s because seven of next year’s Democratic lawmakers, or 22 percent, will be barred from seeking another term in the 2018 elections. They will have reached the legal term limit of 12 years. By comparison, 13 of the 117 Republicans, or 11 percent, will reach the limit.
Put another way: Up to 104 Republicans have the potential to seek re-election in 2018 while only 25 Democrats will have that chance. And, although things can change, if this year is any indication, it will be hard for either party to flip an incumbent’s seat.
Every sitting lawmaker on Tuesday’s ballot was re-elected, and seats for the three GOP incumbents who lost in the primary remained with the GOP.
The only party switches occurred in open races in which a sitting lawmaker couldn’t, or chose not to, run again. This year, Democrats took two of those seats from Republicans while Republicans took nine from Democrats.
If the trend continues, Democrats in 2018 will need to protect at least the seven open seats.
Oklahoma Democratic Party spokeswoman Sarah Baker said Democrats will need to work harder to win more seats in 2018.
“We are seeing a lot of grassroots efforts with people knocking on doors or supporting their candidates,” she said. “But we are seeing a lot of it just on social media or online. And it’s not translating enough as actually getting out there, working and helping those candidates.”
The problem for Democrats is also compounded partly by the departure in 2018 of some key leaders: Minority Floor Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City; Assistant Minority Leader Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, and Democratic Senate Floor Leader Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, who all are term-limited.
But it is not all bad news for the party.
Bill Shapard, who runs Oklahoma City-based SoonerPoll, said historically the party that doesn’t control the White House and Congress, which Republicans will through 2018, often performs better in mid-term elections. That could extend to down-ticket races at the state level.
Also, the governor’s race could be in play in 2018, and Democrats might field a strong candidate who could reclaim the position after two Republican terms.