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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."