Democrats say they are serious about state elections. But are they too late?


“It sounds a lot like rock climbing, pushing a boulder while your arms melt,” said Amanda Litman of the liberal group Run for Something, which recruits young people to run for state and local elections.

Gaby Goldstein, co-founder of Sister District, a grassroots organization that supports progressive candidates in state legislative elections, noted that conservatives have rallied around state politics for decades. “I always say Democrats are behind the party,” she said.

The Democratic Party’s late interest in lower-level racing grew out of its murderous experience in 2010, when Republicans mounted an anti-Obama backlash to oust hundreds of incumbent Democrats nationwide. Spending just $ 30 million, Republicans toppled 680 state legislative seats and 20 chambers, a stunning victory that put them in a position to redraw the electoral maps and strengthen their grip over those states – and their delegations to Congress. – for a decade.

“Democrats frankly weren’t prepared during this cycle,” said Kelly Ward Burton, who at the time headed the House Democrats campaign committee. Now chair of Mr. Holder’s redistribution committee, Ms. Burton has worked closely with several Democratic campaign groups in hopes of a different outcome than the current round of redistribution.

Part hard politics and part good government activism, the group strategy has been to break down the GOP’s “trifectas” to the extent possible – reducing the number of states where Republicans have full control over it. the process of redistribution, because they hold the government and the majority in the two legislative ones. bedrooms. They also ask candidates for state and federal positions to pledge of support for “a fair redistribution which puts an end to the manipulation of maps and creates truly representative districts”, an aspiration which is sometimes in tension with more partisan objectives.

Halfway through the current redistribution brawl, the results of these Democratic efforts are mixed.

The long troubled Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee became a force under new leadership in 2016, putting the party in place to take six chambers in the 2018 midterm election. Since 2017, Democrats have toppled 10 offices of governor, notably on the battlefields of Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and won seven seats on the State Supreme Court. Five states have adopted non-partisan redistribution reforms, leaving mapping to independent commissions.

But the blue wave Democrats counted on in 2020 never ended. Although Democratic groups have spent record amounts of money trying to reclaim GOP-owned state houses, their party ended in worse shape last year, losing both houses in New Hampshire. As a result, Republicans not only retained control over prices like the Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin legislatures, but they also retained the power to draw maps for 187 congressional districts, while Democrats control the fate of only 75.


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