Democrats spend­ing mil­lions to try to take back state­houses

The Saline Courier - - NEWSPAGE -

AUSTIN, Texas — Democrats still shaken by the 2010 tea party wave that net­ted Repub­li­cans six gov­er­nors’ of­fices, flipped 21 state­house cham­bers and drove nearly 700 Demo­cratic state leg­is­la­tors from of­fice are mount­ing a come­back, pour­ing mil­lions of dol­lars into state level races.

In a long­time Re­pub­li­can dis­trict cov­er­ing a wealthy enclave of Dal­las, Demo­cratic chal­lenger Shawn Terry has raised $235,000, an eye-pop­ping amount for a state­house race that’s more than a year away. In Vir­ginia, where the GOP holds a slim ma­jor­ity, Democrats have out­raised Repub­li­cans for the first time in years. Democrats are even putting some money in deeply Re­pub­li­can Louisiana.

The cash del­uge shows how the con­se­quences of next year’s elec­tions run far deeper than Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s po­lit­i­cal fate. The party that con­trols state leg­is­la­tures will take a lead­ing role in the once-in-adecade re­dis­trict­ing process that re­draws con­gres­sional maps. Newly em­pow­ered Repub­li­cans used that process to their fa­vor fol­low­ing the tea party vic­to­ries, and Democrats want to use the same play­book.

“There is, es­pe­cially for this cy­cle, a very strong fo­cus on re­dis­trict­ing,” Terry said.

The stakes are par­tic­u­larly high fol­low­ing a re­cent Supreme Court rul­ing that de­cided fed­eral courts have no busi­ness polic­ing po­lit­i­cal boundary dis­putes in many cases. The rul­ing doesn’t ap­ply to dis­tricts ger­ry­man­dered along racial lines but oth­er­wise gives states wide lat­i­tude to draw maps with lit­tle con­cern for an even­tual ju­di­cial re­buke.

“Ev­ery­body knows ev­ery­thing is at stake,” said Stephanie Schri­ock, pres­i­dent of the group EMILY’S List, which re­cruits and trains women to run for of­fice and plans to spend $20 mil­lion on leg­isla­tive races. “We just have to go in and win cham­bers.”

Or­ga­ni­za­tions like EMILY’S List, the Demo­cratic Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion and the Demo­cratic Leg­isla­tive Cam­paign Com­mit­tee have seen a sharp in­crease in do­na­tions, near­ing par­ity with Repub­li­cans who al­most al­ways out­raise and out­spend them, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of IRS data by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

And Demo­cratic donors who gave lit­tle to noth­ing to down-bal­lot races in the past are cut­ting large checks to groups fo­cused on state races, the AP’S anal­y­sis shows. Among them are bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros (at least $5.4 mil­lion), hedge fund bil­lion­aire Don­ald Suss­man (at least $4.8 mil­lion) and bil­lion­aire in­vestor and en­tre­pre­neur Fred Ey­chaner (at least $4.2 mil­lion).

The num­bers don’t take into ac­count the ac­tiv­i­ties of non­profit “dark money” groups that both Repub­li­cans and Democrats op­er­ate. They won’t have to dis­close their fi­nances un­til next year at the ear­li­est.

But al­ready the money is fil­ter­ing out to the states.

Pri­or­i­ties USA, the largest Demo­cratic out­side group, and EMILY’S List re­cently an­nounced they would spend $600,000 on voter mo­bi­liza­tion for Vir­ginia’s fall elec­tions. For the first time, the Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion re­search group Amer­i­can Bridge is dig­ging into the pasts of Re­pub­li­can state­house can­di­dates.

And the DLCC, which is spear­head­ing efforts in Vir­ginia, says it has col­lected $9 mil­lion since the 2018 midterm elec­tions, an offyear record, and is on pace to reach its $50 mil­lion fundrais­ing goal for the cy­cle.

New groups that are fo­cused on state races have sprung up, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Demo­cratic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee, which is led by for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder and en­dorsed by for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

It all stems from what Democrats de­scribe as a nearly trau­ma­tiz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in 2010 when, rev­el­ing in the early days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, they failed to or­ga­nize at the state level. Demo­cratic strate­gist Jes­sica Post re­mem­bers be­ing out­side a bar in Pennsylvan­ia’s capital city of Har­ris­burg when she got word of just how thor­oughly her party was re­jected.

“Af­ter curl­ing up on the side­walk, I walked back into the bar, popped open a Bud­weiser and said to my­self, ‘If I have any­thing to do with this, we will not get out­classed in 2020 by the Repub­li­cans,’” said Post, who now leads the DLCC and is tasked with re­claim­ing lost ground.

The new at­ten­tion Democrats are pay­ing to down-bal­lot races is a break from the past, when the White House and Congress were the pri­mary fo­cus. For­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Terry Mcauliffe said a break­through came in 2016 when he, then-house Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi and other party of­fi­cials gathered top Demo­cratic donors in a Philadelph­ia ho­tel ball­room to force­fully make the case and un­veil a new state level fundrais­ing ini­tia­tive.

“Peo­ple fi­nally un­der­stand that you just can’t play ev­ery four years in the pres­i­den­tial, you have to play in th­ese state races,” said Mcauliffe, a top Demo­cratic fundraiser. “You could have a great wave in Congress, but if you have all th­ese ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts, I don’t care how much money you have.”

Next year’s elec­tions will still play out un­der the maps that Repub­li­cans drew af­ter the 2010 cam­paign. But Democrats are hop­ing that the money they’re in­vest­ing in state races, higher turnout in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year and frus­tra­tion with Trump, par­tic­u­larly in the sub­urbs, could give them the lift they need.

In Texas, for in­stance, Democrats are nine seats away from flip­ping the House, which would give them a sliver of power af­ter nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury of po­lit­i­cal ir­rel­e­vance. A Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House would deny the GOP the chance to write con­gres­sional maps on their own.

The Minnesota Se­nate is two seats away from flip­ping from red to blue, while the Michi­gan House is four seats away, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. Pennsylvan­ia Democrats need nine seats to con­trol the House and four to take the Se­nate. In Florida, Democrats are four seats from power in the Se­nate, while con­trol of the Wis­con­sin Se­nate hangs by three. In North Carolina, Democrats could take the Se­nate by win­ning five seats, while the House would re­quire them to flip six.

Repub­li­cans are tak­ing the threat se­ri­ously. Cit­ing mul­ti­ple stud­ies, they say the out­comes of 50 leg­isla­tive races across the U.S. could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a 36-seat Re­pub­li­can con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity and a massive 110seat Demo­cratic edge.

Austin Cham­bers, pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­li­can State Lead­er­ship Com­mit­tee, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion will need to raise more than it ever has, though he de­clined to state a fundrais­ing goal. His group was nar­rowly edged by DLCC in the first half of 2019, though Cham­bers said he ex­pects they will ul­ti­mately out­raise Democrats.

“It is se­ri­ous as a heart at­tack, and we’ve got to do ev­ery­thing we can to pre­pare for it,” he said.

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