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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems’ Failure to Flip State Legislatures Needs Review

Writing at Vox, Jerusalem Demsas provides a painful report, “Democrats fail to make gains in state legislative races in advance of 2021 redistricting.” Subtitled “Democrats point to gerrymandering as Republicans successfully fend off state legislative challenges,” Demsas explains:

This year, banking on a blue wave, Democrats staked out an ambitious map aiming to spend $50 million to win legislative majorities in GOP-held chambers and gain control of key chambers in advance of next year’s redistricting fights. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) targeted both chambers in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kansas as well as the Iowa and Michigan Houses and the Minnesota Senate.

In the end, Democrats raised $88 million to Republicans’ $60 million — but they don’t have much to show for it.

Votes in Arizona are still being counted, but if those chambers remain in GOP hands, Democrats will have failed to flip a single state chamber. In fact, the only chambers that will have changed hands are the New Hampshire House and Senate, which flipped to Republican control. This is a surprising defeat for Democrats — particularly as New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly reelected Democrats to the US Congress and voted for former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide margin.

According to the NCSL, this means that out of 98 chambers (not counting Nebraska’s unicameral and facially nonpartisan body), “59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats.” And when it comes to unified control — meaning one party controls both the legislature and the governorship — Republicans have the edge holding 23 states to Democrats’ 15.

Democrats likely weren’t the only ones surprised by this outcome. In its October overview, Cook Political Report wrote: “ominously for Republicans, the GOP holds 14 of the 19 vulnerable chambers on our list. This suggests that the Democrats are well-positioned to net up to a half-dozen new chambers this fall, and more if it’s a genuine blue wave.” Cook pointed to Biden’s “strong” running in key states, expecting this to “boost down-ballot candidates.”

The painful Kicker:

If Democratic losses this year are due to 2010’s redistricting at the hands of the GOP, it’s hard to see their path forward as Republicans are yet again set to spearhead the redistricting process next year. The DLCC believes their losses are due to the map being “rigged” and point to gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts as proof.

No doubt there were individual success stories for Dems in state legislative races. But, after all of the valid points about GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression have been made, Dems will have to do some soul-searching about their brand and how it is perceived at the local level- and then get busy creating a beter plan for 2022.

2 comments on “Dems’ Failure to Flip State Legislatures Needs Review

  1. Martin Lawford on

    After the Democrats’ heavy defeat in 2014, DNC Chairman Wasserman-Schultz commissioned a national study called the Democratic Victory Task Force. They wrote in their final report that one of their clearest findings was that few people knew what it means to be a Democrat. This implies weakness at the grassroots which can explain the party’s failure to gain Senate seats and governorships, which cannot be gerrymandered. Then, just what does it mean to be a Democrat? How can we get voters to vote for us if they do not know what they are voting for? And, how could we outspend the Republicans by 50% in the state legislative races without gaining one legislative chamber? Is it because we spent most of the money on the wrong things?


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