Here’s a sad postscript that shows once again the power of dark money in off-the-radar races. The silver lining amidst the clouds of the recall election in Wisconsin was that Democrats at least “took over” the state Senate. “Took over” was a bit of a strong word, because they won a majority in the chamber after the legislative session ended. They gaveled in as the majority precisely once, to hand out committee assignments. No legislating was done with that majority, and none could happen unless Scott Walker called a new session. So Democrats would have to defend that majority in this election. And they would have to do it with new district maps that Republicans created to solidify their gains, before the Senate takeover.

The AFL-CIO brings the bad news:

Wisconsin Senate: Republicans retook the majority. Republicans needed to defeat just one Democratic incumbent or win the one open seat while protecting the four GOP incumbents facing challengers to reclaim the majority in the Senate. Republicans won the open seat in far northeastern Wisconsin’s 12th Senate District and all four GOP incumbents won their races handily. That leaves the balance of power at 16-16 with Republican challenger Rick Gudex leading Democrat Rep. Jessica King in east-central Wisconsin’s 18th Senate District. Another open seat will be filled in a December special election and will almost certainly remain Republican, essentially giving the GOP a 17-16 edge that could grow to 18-15 if Gudex emerges victorious.

Wisconsin Assembly: Republicans will continue to control the Wisconsin Assembly. Republicans have 58 seats, Democrats have 37 seats, and 4 remain uncalled.

Jessica King, in fact, was one of the recall winners that tipped the state Senate in the Democrats’ direction. She defeated philanderer Randy Hopper in that race, but the seat was redistricted to make it tough on her, and she’s in danger of losing.

But that race actually doesn’t matter a whole lot. Republicans will have a trifecta in Madison, just like they had before the recalls. And Scott Walker will be able to do a whole lot more mischief.

Other state legislative races were mixed, but they show that Democrats still have trouble breaking through, despite big turnout among their new electoral coalition. Democrats did win back a number of chambers after the wipeout in 2010. They won the Colorado House, the Maine House and Senate (just a great night for Maine), the Minnesota House and Senate (another state where marriage was on the ballot, incidentally), the Oregon House, and possibly the New Hampshire House. They also retained the Iowa Senate and Nevada Senate, and secured a governing majority of over 2/3 in the California legislature.

But Democrats failed to make majority-changing gains in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan, lost the Senate in Alaska, and will now have less than 1/3 of the Indiana House. In Ohio, the House added one seat. The twin barrels of redistricting and big money secured these gains for Republicans. Even in states where Democrats did well in more high-profile races, they couldn’t crack the legislative nut, with Wisconsin being among the most egregious examples. And we’ve seen the damage that state legislatures can do throughout 2011 and 2012. The states will continue to present a real fight in the near future.

David Dayen

David Dayen