Democrats say they take the state elections seriously. But are you too late?


“It feels a lot like climbing up a hill, pushing a rock while your arms melt,” said Amanda Litman of Run for Something, a liberal group that recruits young people to run for state and local office.

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

The Democrats’ belated interest in lower-tier races stemmed from their bloody experience in 2010, when Republicans rode a backlash against Obama to oust hundreds of Democratic incumbents nationwide. With just $ 30 million, Republicans flipped 680 parliamentary seats and 20 chambers, a staggering victory that has enabled them to redraw election cards and cement their power over these states – and their congressional delegations – for a decade.

“The Democrats were frankly unprepared for this cycle,” said Kelly Ward Burton, who chaired the Democrats’ campaign committee at the time. As President 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 redistribution round.

Partly tough politics and part good government activism, the groups’ strategy was to break open GOP “trifectas” whenever possible – to reduce the number of states in which Republicans have full control over the redistribution process because they hold both governorship and the majorities in both legislatures hold chambers. They also call on candidates for state and federal offices, Promise support for “fair redistribution that ends map manipulation and creates really representative districts”, a claim that is sometimes in tension with rather partisan goals.

In the midst of the current redistribution brawl, the results of these democratic efforts are mixed.

The long-battered Democratic campaign committee became a force under new leadership in 2016, hiring the party to fill six chambers in the 2018 midterm elections. Since 2017, the Democrats have turned 10 gubernatorial offices inside out, including on the battlefields of Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and captured seven seats on the state Supreme Court. Five states have passed bipartisan redistribution reforms and placed map-drawing in the hands of independent commissions.

But the blue wave that Democrats are counting on in 2020 has never washed ashore. Although Democratic groups spent record sums trying to win back GOP-owned state houses, their party ended worse last year, losing both New Hampshire houses. As a result, not only did Republicans retain control of prices like the Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin legislatures, but they also have the power to map out 187 congressional districts while the Democrats determine the fate of only 75.


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