Oct 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats' state legislative sprint

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill folded like a roadmap with navigation points dropped around it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Two major Democratic groups are partnering to pour millions into state legislative races across Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the last four weeks before the election.

Why it matters: Their TV and digital ads in five battlegrounds will target races with thin margins where the late spending could be key. The push is driven by concerns about Republican outspending, legislative gains, and further restrictions on abortion and voting rights ahead of 2024.

  • Republicans control 61 of 98 state chambers. They have a trifecta (both legislative chambers and the governorship) in 23 states.
  • The Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could establish so-called independent state legislatures giving chambers “nearly absolute power over federal elections,” per NYT.

The details: The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), run by former Attorney General Eric Holder, is partnering with The States Project, a Democratic aligned group focused on state legislative races.

  • In Arizona, they're aiming to flip one seat in the state Senate to break up Republican legislative control.
  • In New Hampshire, Democrats hope to gain control of at least one state chamber in order to prevent a GOP trifecta in 2024.
  • They're working to preserve their state Senate majority in Colorado with an eye on election and redistricting laws.
  • In Michigan and Pennsylvania, Dems say they must win back at least one chamber to ensure fair elections processes in 2024.

Flashback: Democrats are still playing catch-up in the states after losing nearly 1,000 state legislative seats under then-President Barack Obama.

What to watch: The NYT reported that since July, Republicans have spent roughly $1 million more than Democrats on TV ads in Pennsylvania — and that GOP candidates and outside groups have spent $39 million to Democrats' $35 million.

  • That spending gap is expected to narrow with this new investment.

Between the lines: In September, The States Project announced a separate $60 million initiative to help Democratic candidates flip seats and win back state chambers in Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

  • NDRC was created around ensuring fair redistricting but expanded its work to down-ballot contests including state supreme courts, secretaries of state, governors, and state legislators.
  • The Republican committee investing in state legislative races has broken fundraising records but maintains they're being dwarfed by outside Dem spending.
  • Democrats' campaign arm spends only on state legislative races, but the GOP group also invests in lieutenant governors, secretaries of state, statewide agriculture officials, and state court judges.

What they're saying: Holder said the joint effort "is critical to ensuring voters understand what is at stake in this election" and that extreme abortion restrictions would "change American life as we know it."

  • Daniel Squadron, founding partner of The States Project, said they are targeting "the most votes possible in races that will be decided by razor-thin margins."
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