Sep 20, 2019

Democrats target over 26,000 local races to unseat Republicans

Third Ward City Council candidate Steve Fletcher knocks on doors in Minneapolis in 2017. Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Contest Every Race, a new coalition of Democratic groups, is launching a seven-figure campaign to challenge Republican incumbents in 26,849 down-ballot local races, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: 2020 is more than just the presidential election. Democrats are getting serious about trying to gain more power at the local level, whether through city council seats, school boards, or state legislatures.

  • There are 520,000 elected offices in the country.
  • As many as 75% go uncontested, per the group, ceding many of those seats to Republicans.

State legislatures, which oversee everything from infrastructure to gerrymandering to abortion laws, are particularly important. State maps identifying congressional districts are set to be redrawn before the 2022 midterm elections. That means local candidates elected in 2020 will help determine future congressional battlegrounds.

  • During Barack Obama's presidency, Democrats lost at least 1,000 state legislative seats, which they're still working to recapture.

"The GOP is no longer going to get a free pass at the local level," said Kelly Dietrich, founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee.

By the numbers: The group is working to find and recruit progressive candidates in five battleground states: Florida, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, and Iowa. Contest Every Race is banking on personalized attention and texting technologies to make it easier to identify and prepare Democratic challengers.

  • "Filing for your first political office can be intimidating, to say the least,” said Shameria Ann Davis, a local school board member in Texas who was elected in 2018. “The consistent texting, information, and friendliness of Contest Every Race was immeasurable.”
  • When Democrats concede the field in down-ballot races, it tends to depress turnout, said Yoni Landau, CEO of Resistance Labs. "We need to build a bench to take state legislatures."

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Golden age of local leaders

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While approval ratings of Congress are at all time lows, people in both parties still largely trust their local and state elected officials.

The big picture: Congressional gridlock and partisan divisions in Washington will likely deepen leading into the 2020 presidential election. But at the city level, officials are able to move quickly to address their communities' problems, from housing zoning to climate change to gun control.

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Texas Republicans admit there's a problem

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The retirement of six House Republicans from Texas at the end of this term shows their pessimism about winning back the House majority in 2020, GOP strategists tell Axios — and foreshadows bigger Republican fears in the nation's second most populous state.

The big picture: The GOP recognizes they can no longer ignore their Democratic opponents and count on coasting to re-election in this previously-reliable red state.

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All the qualifiers for November's Democratic debate

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The November Democratic primary debates, hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, are scheduled to take place in Georgia on Nov. 20. Ten presidential candidates qualified to appear on stage, leaving former HUD Secretary Julián Castro as the notable exception.

How it works: Each candidate needed to hit 3% in at least four accepted polls to qualify, or 5% in two single-state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada. Candidate were also required to attract 165,000 unique donors and a minimum of 600 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 6, 2019