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States expecting fierce legislative campaigns in 2016

While the presidential campaign commands the public's attention, political parties and financial contributors are quietly preparing for another less glitzy yet significant set of elections a year from now - battles to determine control of dozens of state legislative chambers.

With the November 2016 elections just one year away, Republicans, Democrats and outside groups are preparing for expensive battles over state legislative seats.

National Republican and Democratic groups have set record-high fundraising goals as they try to influence the outcome of 2016 state legislative races. Independent political committees appear likely to join the fray.

Increasing activity by independent groups could push next year's campaign fundraising totals past those of previous election cycles. Since 2006, contributions to state legislative candidates have ranged between $900 million and $1 billion.

With Congress frequently paralyzed by partisanship, legislative elections are gaining attention because states are the ones pushing change. In recent years, state legislatures have been addressing gun control, infrastructure, education standards, renewable energy, marijuana and transgender rights.

The races also are critical to political parties because legislatures in most states are responsible for drawing the boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. The party in charge can help ensure favorable districts - and thus potentially remain in power - for a decade to come.

In some states, control of a chamber is at stake. In others, parties are seeking to gain or thwart a supermajority. Elsewhere, one party is merely looking to cut into the other's majority. Some of the states expected to attract the most legislative interest in the coming year:

Washington:

- Both chambers are in play in the closely divided Legislature. Republicans currently hold a 26-23 Senate majority, thanks partly to one Democrat who caucuses with them, while Democrats control the House 51-47.

Oregon:

- National Republicans are targeting both legislative chambers with hopes of cutting into Democratic majorities that currently stand at 18-12 in the Senate and 35-25 in the House.

California:

- Democrats are just one Senate seat and two Assembly seats away from gaining the two-thirds supermajorities needed to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation and override gubernatorial vetoes without the need for any Republican votes.

Nationally, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee hopes to raise $20 million for the 2016 state legislative races, which would set a record for the group. An additional $20 million is expected to be spent by an affiliated super political action committee, Advantage 2020, which is focused on gaining Democratic state legislative majorities ahead of the next round of redistricting.

The rival Republican State Leadership Committee has its own record fundraising goal of $40 million.

The parties' national efforts will be supplemented by state political parties and like-minded groups.

Independent expenditures on state legislative races have been on the rise since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which allowed unions and corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns.

From 2010 to 2012, the total amount of independent expenditures on state legislative races shot up 75 percent to $94 million, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a Helena, Montana-based nonprofit. It is still compiling nationwide figures for the 2014 elections.

Outside interest groups also already have been raising money with an eye on 2016.

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