Dear Commons Community,
While all eyes were on the Senate and the House of Representatives on Election Day, under the radar was the fact that Democrats did very well in maintaining and gaining control of state legislatures. Democrats defended every state legislative chamber in their control this year — making it the first midterm elections since 1934 in which the party in power has not lost a chamber.
They were also able to flip chambers in several states, a shift from previous midterm cycles where Democrats have struggled at the state level. In Pennsylvania, Democrats narrowly gained control of the state House for the first time since 2010. They flipped the Minnesota Senate and both chambers in Michigan, giving the party a trifecta in both states. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, Democrats prevented Republicans from gaining supermajorities, protecting Democratic governors’ veto power.
In a memo first shared with CBS News, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) said the victories serve as a lesson to Democrats up and down the ballot.
“Democrats made history in state legislatures this year — defying the odds, bucking political wisdom, and laying out a blueprint for Democratic wins at the state legislative level,” wrote DLCC president Jessica Post. She credited investing early and helping local leaders and said that unlike 2010, Democrats this decade will be able to go on offense. Now, the DLCC is calling for the party to continue building from the ground up.
Post argued that some of the obstacles Democrats faced this year stemmed from GOP control of some of the nation’s state legislatures because it’s the legislature that often controls the way congressional districts are drawn.
“Democratic efforts to control the U.S. House are more difficult because of Democrats’ failure to invest in state legislatures earlier,” Post wrote. “Congressional Democrats were running in districts rigged by Republican state legislators in many states. If Democrats want to fight back against the MAGA agenda and make our country better for all Americans, that work must start in state legislatures.”
The state level successes come on the heels of redistricting. According to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), there are many reasons for Democrats’ victories in 2022 but investment in state level races was a part of it.
“It was a big lesson of the last decade, that Democrats needed to be more focused on the states and state level infrastructure, and I think you’ve seen the party really rally to that over the last several cycles, and 2022 was the culmination of that investment,” said NDRC President Kelly Burton said.
The NDRC started its work before the actual redistricting process. Compared to the previous decade, Republican control over the redistricting process decreased by more than 20%. Burton said without such efforts, the results would have been worse for Democrats. She believes the party will continue to invest heavily on the state level because it’s paying off.
The DLCC started sending funds to legislature candidates for 2022 last fall and released its strategy identifying what it believed would be the most competitive states in the spring. In total, the DLCC raised and spent $50 million this cycle, surpassing the 2018 midterms. Its finance team also helped state partners raise more than $105 million for targets this election season.
The memo noted two major themes were front and center during this election cycle as part of its winning strategy: abortion rights and protecting democracy.
The DLCC recognized abortion rights would be a major factor in state legislative elections early on and launched its States to Save Roe website in January even before the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. It then continued to capitalize on the issue “at every turn.”
The committee also worked to tie all Republicans to what it called “MAGA extremists” and warned Republicans posed an existential threat to democracy. As part of that, they took aim at state officials like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania who was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, for former President Trump’s speech.
At the same time, candidates continued to address how they would lower costs, the memo said, blunting some of the attacks by Republicans amid soaring inflation. Some efforts included direct relief checks, tax rebates or working to cut child and health care costs.
While the DLCC is calling for the party to build off the 2022 successes, it was not alone in its efforts to increase Democrats’ numbers in the state assemblies and senates. The States Project invested nearly $60 million in state chambers, the most in a single cycle by an outside effort.
The DLCC is now looking to 2024, helping to defend majorities as well as flip seats in states like New Hampshire and Arizona. Next year, Virginia is also a battleground with its off-year elections.
While Republicans lost chambers in 2022 – they did see representation grow in several states. In Florida, where the party already had a trifecta, Republicans were able to gain supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. They were also able to gain supermajorities in at least one chamber in Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin. In Oregon, GOP candidates also gained seats – ending Democrats’ supermajority in the state.
Let’s hope the Democrats can keep their act together for 2024!