Joe Biden won the White House overwhelmingly, but otherwise the news for Democrats has been grim since election day. They failed to flip the Senate – although the Georgia runoff could still get them a 50:50 tie broken by Vice President Kamala Harris – and lost seats in the House of Representatives, where they were expected to fill their majority. But nowhere has the news been worse than at the state legislature level, where despite unprecedented investments by democratic organizations and outside groups and the expectation that in a “blue wave” they would switch from four to eight legislatures – or more – party lost on Ground.
With surprising openness, Nicole Hobbs, co-founder of Every District, a government organization for organization, fundraising and data analysis, wrote in an election post mortem: “It was a blood bath.”
I’ve heard that word a lot. Also “Shit Show”. The mildest: “No way to gloss it over.”
These came from people who are still trying to raise funds to continue their struggle. That makes them courageous, even when (mostly) lost.
The losses were everywhere. Not all races in all states are called, but despite the outstanding competitions, there is no way Democrats can turn chambers. Against all odds, they lost the New Hampshire House and the Senate. Activists hoped Democrats could pick up homes in Iowa and Minnesota; They lost five and seven seats respectively. They seemed close to flipping both the Arizona House and the Senate. Despite Biden’s victory, they only got one Senate seat there. They thought they had a good chance of flipping the North Carolina House and / or the Senate. They lost an estimated four seats in the House of Representatives while they won one in the Senate. After winning 12 seats at Texas House in 2018, there was optimism that Democrats could turn it around by winning nine this year; You won one.
They had a good chance of winning the Michigan House, which seems reasonable in hindsight, as Biden won the state by nearly 150,000 votes; instead, zero profits. Biden also won Wisconsin, albeit tighter, but thanks to the vast districts, the Democrats lost two Senate seats while they won two in the House of Representatives. And he won Pennsylvania, but the Democrats lost three House seats and apparently one in the Senate.
There were a few bright spots – mainly that the Democrats mostly clung to seats and chambers they had recently won. It really could have been worse. But in the year leading up to crucial restructuring decisions, the losses could be significant setbacks to the Democrats’ long-term project to abolish the GOP gerrymandering, which is driving Republicans to win state legislative and congressional delegations despite receiving fewer votes nationwide. This was particularly critical in North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Republicans dominated after the bleak 2010 elections and where caricaturally unfair lines were drawn. The only good news in Wisconsin is that the Democrats retain enough legislative power to uphold a veto on Democratic Governor Tony Evers.
Why were democratic expectations so high? (I kept it too.) Not just because of an oversized monetary investment by the Democratic Party institutions and liberal donor base, which was real despite the GOP pouring a lot of money into the states over the past month. Democrats by and large recruited strong candidates, including many women and people of color. This summer, many thought Trump’s pandemic blunder would dampen GOP turnout and turn independents into Democrats. Many candidates ran innovative campaigns and focused on “low bias” color voters rather than following instructions from caucus leaders and advisers, voting Democrats who always vote, and the most convincing Independents, which many progressives weigh on look at the democratic destiny.
All of these lessons came from 2018, when the Democrats won 309 seats in the state’s legislative houses but lost some that they might have won. This year they had a chance to get it right.
So what happened
ÖIn the summer and fall, I watched the races of three women of color who ran unexpectedly tight and lost in 2018 and ran again this year: Aimy Steele for a seat in Charlotte, NC, Area House, Joanna Cattanach for a seat in the Texas Senate in Dallas and Kathy Lewis in a Florida Senate seat in Tampa. All three were essentially linked to their opponents in the last pre-election election; all lost at least as much as they did two years ago.
As I spoke to them and the various outside groups and counselors who worked with them, I heard the same things that I had heard elsewhere in the country.
Explanation number one: Donald Trump had long coattails, even in defeat – and Biden had short ones, even in victory. “People just didn’t see it coming,” says Carolyn Fiddler of Daily Kos, long an evangelist for Democrats to pay more attention to statehouse races. “Trump wasn’t on the ballot in 2018. We don’t know what would have happened if it had been him.” Everyone I interviewed agreed. And the suburban “blue wave” that helped Biden to victory? There were no Democratic candidates (or, to be honest, many seats in the US House of Representatives or the Senate). “The Republicans voted violently where the Democrats didn’t do it again,” says Joanna Cattanach, who ran a second time for a seat in the Texas Senate in Dallas County and just lost. “And we saw a lot of ticket splinters.” I’ve heard that all over the country. It’s going to take a lot more district-level analysis to be sure.
The seats this year were also heavier than in 2018, most analysts told me. According to Every District, more than 60 percent of the districts that had to win Democrats to flip chambers were Republicans, at least in part thanks to GOP Gerrymanders. We got a preview of it in 2019: Democrats flipped both the House of Delegates and Senate in Virginia; They took more democratic seats, but only won a conservative district. “We all picked the low hanging fruit,” said Rita Bosworth, executive director of Sister District, a respected national group that connects activists and donors in safe blue districts with those trying to flip purple or red across the country.
Andrew Whalan, Senior Director of State and Local Campaigns at Emily’s List, put it this way: “Super-charged voter turnout from Trump supporters combined with really tough seats”.
As with the disappointing House and Senate results, some Democrats complain that the Biden campaign focused too much on Trump and not enough on turning the entire Republican Party into a racist, anti-democratic swamp. As Ron Brownstein put it in a must read Atlantic Piece: “Instead of portraying Trump as the pinnacle of Republican politics and values, Biden consistently portrayed him as an aberration; Many strategists on both sides believe it made it easier for voters to oppose Trump but still support Republicans in house and Senate races. ”
On the other hand, this could have been Biden’s only path to the presidency.
The polls were terrible in those races as well, though this was true up and down the vote: Cattanach rose five points in the final shortlist; she lost about 1 point.
Trump’s strength among Latinos has been perhaps the most troubling, helping demolish democratic hopes in Texas (somewhat realistic), Florida (less realistic), and a few other less anticipated counties across the country. Though so was the tendency of the party, “Latinos” – a diverse community that includes Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Central Americans, and more – made up of both younger immigrants and people whose families have lived here for generations To treat as monoliths that was inevitably a Democratic trend and failure to invest in long-term organization.
Very worrying: in the end, the pandemic likely hurt many democratic campaigns more than helped. “If someone told Republicans there was one tool that could be stolen from the ‘blue wave’ in 2020, what would it be?” Our founder of States Matter, Christine Bachman, asked. “They wouldn’t skip a beat – they’d say, publicity, the ability to knock doors. That was my biggest fear of the cycle.” In Florida, a Trump aide said that the campaign had “used the role of the Democrats during the campaign To advertise door-to-door coronavirus crisis “to win the state more than it beat Hillary Clinton four years ago. in the received a memo from Florida politics. Beto O’Rourke also cited the “willingness of the GOP to knock on doors and hold personal events during the pandemic” as a major contributor to the disappointing results in Texas.
When I first heard this complaint, I thought it was a fixation on political mechanics with small holes. But it wasn’t like that.
B.iden didn’t suffer from the fact that he couldn’t knock on doors or advertise. Likewise, probably not the US Senate candidates (although they may have suffered loss of votes). Still US house candidates (also). But everyone I’ve spoken to has said that the inability to be there in person, be it at doors or at small personal events, this urge for state legislative seats where the districts are smaller and neighbor-to-neighbor campaigns are more conducive are really hurt.
Several groups, from Emily’s List to the Future Now Fund, have used the number of doors knocked as a measure of campaign strength in evaluating candidates for state legislation. Just before election day, Future Now Fund’s Daniel Squadron admitted that the group wasn’t sure their candidates had found ways to “organize relationally to accommodate the effects of door knocking”. It now appears that many did not.
This coincided with another problem: the bizarre GOP attack on Democratic candidates in support of Defund the Police and Socialism – even when it clearly wasn’t. At the state legislature level, I saw none of the bitter hint that shared the US House Democratic caucus, and Virginia Moderate Representative Abigail Spanberger called out on a conference call that those two issues were almost costing her the district “which I have hardly won”. and the Bronx Democratic socialist representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who attributes the party’s struggles to mediocre messaging and mobilization techniques and dismal digital media.
Republicans attacked in this manner nationwide and up and down, from Biden (who won) to Staten Island, New York, Rep. Max Rose (who lost). Neither candidate supports either claim, far from it. But the prosecution did far more harm to the state legislature candidates.
Aimy Steele, who ran a second time for a seat at the North Carolina Statehouse in Caberras County, Charlotte after it closed in 2018, is one of the more disturbing examples. She was hit hard with the “She supports “Defund the Police”Fee in mailers, social media, and television commercials. Unless she doesn’t. And her husband is a retired cop; He is now the local police chaplain. Steele says the inability to knock on doors and hold small events outside hampered her response – although she managed to pay for a TV ad towards the end of the campaign and was late knocking on the door.
“It made it so much harder not being able to knock on doors or have small meetings where you could hear what your neighbors were saying,” Steele told me more than a week after the election. “It banned any sort of clarification of your message.” Two white male GOP candidates for a local office she knew personally shared and confronted the dishonest ads on Facebook – on social media and in person on an early-voting website.
“You shared these posts about me and you know my family,” she said. Four simple words set her back: “You hurt my feelings.” She heard four more words – “I’m so sorry” – but it couldn’t undo the damage.
The North Carolina Democrats have faced highly coordinated attacks, claiming they support “Defund[ing] the Police ”- the North Carolina GOP sent essentially the same mailer to attack every Democrat by just changing the name and photo. Where did Republicans get this claim from? Apparently this was due in part to the fact that many of the candidates, along with more than 1,000 others across the country, signed the Future Now Fund’s “America’s Goals” pledge. The promise is anodyne, all patriotic goals – “Good Jobs,” “Equal Opportunities For All,” and “Affordable Quality Health Care” – that even Republicans could support. Somehow, the Republicans claimed, the promise contained “Defund the Police”. It absolutely didn’t. But it seems – and I learned this from websites in North Carolina looking for perfidy – the group has a “library of guidelines” that spells out some of those goals. There they are driving the model legislation that advocates non-partisan commissions in all states on the question of policing, in order to examine whether and how the financing by the police ensures the safety of the people and whether other services have to be financed in order to ensure public safety improve.
To be honest, it’s so milquetoast, I’m sure there are Movement for Black Lives advocates out there who say, are you kidding?
IIf it wasn’t for Future Now Fund, it would have been another group’s policy library. Many other candidates who were not affiliated at all faced the same attacks. But what’s the answer?
So many people told me: Democrats mostly didn’t respond to the blurring. “I always strike back when necessary,” said Orlando, Fla. Representative Anna Eskamani. Elected into her third term, impeccably progressive, she said the Democrats had largely not hit back. “About socialism? Republicans give money to their corporate donors, ”she notes. And on Defund the Police, she says, there has been little effort, locally, nationally or nationally, to articulate an alternative vision of criminal justice reform.
In Texas, Cattanach agrees. “The [independent expenditure] and mailers were sent outside of PACs that frustrated us and were generally the wrong message, ”she wrote in an email. “I can’t trust him in health care” was not the same level as “baby killer” and “police fired,” which stuck with voters. ”
Eskamani also points out that Florida raised the minimum wage to $ 15. How is this place unfolding with the democratic nightmare we saw there? “The Florida Democrats largely backed it, but they didn’t really put it into any type of news,” she says. Some red counties in Florida were looking to raise the minimum wage, which confirms Eskamani’s argument.
By many reports – not all – the Florida Democratic Party is in the worst shape of any swing state (I’m not scapegoating, I’m just reporting). Senate candidate Kathy Lewis, who received almost no support from state party leaders, says, “The party continues to do the same old things as it does and invest in too few people.” Eskamani agrees. But Lewis and Eskamani also agree that the GOP, as bad as the Florida Democrats – they lost five seats in the State House and at least one seat in the Senate – insurgents like Lewis and many others the GOP spent more money there .
The same was true of Texas. “We caused so much turmoil that the Republicans panicked and were forced to spend and defend a state they’d won anyway,” said Cattanach. “It’s nice to think we made her take her eyes off Pennsylvania and Georgia and … Arizona and Nevada.” She adds, “Ultimately, I still think Texas can be blue, but it can be fuchsia for a while.”
U.Ultimately, many of the so-called “outside group” leaders told me a version of the same thing: “Stop pumping money into candidates,” as Bosworth of the sister district put it. “Start investing money in the infrastructure.” She pointed to Georgian groups formed by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, such as Fair Fight Action and New Georgia Project, as examples of where this type of ongoing organization is happening – and transforming the state. (Incidentally, in Georgia, where no one expected to flip a chamber, the Democrats won two seats each in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.) Wisconsin Democratic Party leader Ben Wikler also praised the leadership of a rare state party that had long invested -term organization – which seemed to pay off with Biden’s victory and the two seats won in the State House.
As every year I’ve reported on these state races, there have been many complaints about over-conservative, status quo-protecting Democratic parties and House and Senate caucus organizations – and the mostly white staff and advisors who employ them. At least one outside group leader said to me, “They’re easy to point out, but they really never have the money to make any real difference.” This person also said the answer is to invest in local everyday relationships in the community. It’s a chicken and egg problem. Many outside groups fund independent operations because they don’t trust the congregations or party structures to recruit and support a full list of challenges – but then these institutions complain that money goes to outside groups, not them.
Nicole Hobbs from each district agreed. “We must continue to invest in democratic institutions and organize throughout the year,” she said after about eight years under Barack Obama, when the Democrats lost 942 seats. “I hope this year’s disappointing results don’t put people off.”