Here’s how Democrats win back the states

The future of the Democratic Party’s policymaking power depends on winning the states. We live in a fundamentally state-based country. The states determine the winner of the Electoral College, the composition of the Senate, and the district lines of the House of Representatives. They are also where much of the policy in this country is made, particularly as Congress remains dysfunctional. And the shocking reality for Democrats is that we are far behind in the states, holding only 37 state legislative chambers to Republicans’ 61 across the country.

If we want to shape the future of the states, and therefore the nation, we have work to do.

Despite the emergence of several organizations interested in electing Democrats to state legislatures, Democrats still need to lay out a cohesive national strategy to build electoral power at the state legislative level. There is no good list of target districts and strategic organizing opportunities for activists and donors interested in fundamentally reshaping this country. There is no common understanding of the competitiveness and demographic profiles of the key districts. There is still insufficient commitment to resolving the severe structural deficit that Democratic candidates face in running for state legislatures.

Today, EveryDistrict is proud to launch our Purple States Action Plan to change the conversation and lay out the most competitive districts across the country that will need to be on Democrats’ radar in 2019 and 2020. This Action Plan builds on our existing first-of-its-kind nationwide interactive map of competitive state legislative districts. It gives donors and activists a clear roadmap with which to act. We focus in on 28 chambers in purple states, the states at the center of the battle for control of this country.

If we work strategically and efficiently to win back the country, we can pick up 11 state legislative chambers in 2019 and 2020, defeat a GOP supermajority in 4, and make substantial gains in 13 more. Our Purple States Action Plan identifies the 251 most critical state legislative seats in all 28 of these chambers and groups them based on both competitiveness and demographics into distinct categories to help focus donor attention and resources. Among these districts, there are 112 priority seats in the 15 power-shifting chambers. These priority districts represent the districts that are most winnable in the chambers where victory means a significant shift in political power in 2019 or 2020.

These districts require distinct strategies based on their partisan composition. You can read more about how we rank districts here. However, partisanship is just one half of the equation for understanding the most critical elections in 2019 and 2020. We have also grouped these districts based on shared demographics. We believe that this is the first time that an organization has provided Democratic activists with a comprehensive view of what it will take to win in the states. Responding to these demographic characteristics will allow us to meet and surpass the gains made in 2018.

What will it take to win? These three fundamental activities need to begin now:

Recruiting Candidates with Strong Connections to these Districts: Quality candidates are the X-Factor that enable electoral success. In 2017 and 2018, successful state legislative candidates were those who could make a compelling claim to successfully represent a community with which they had real ties. Our focus over the next few months will be ensuring that there is a quality candidate running in each of these 251 districts. If you’re thinking about running for a state legislative seat, learn more about the EveryDistrict endorsement process, and let us know about your campaign, by visiting EveryDistrict.us/Run.

Embracing Strategies to Respond to the Districts: Winning in the states in 2019 and 2020 depends on implementing field and messaging strategies that respond to the districts’ demographic profiles. In our Purple States Action Plan we group districts into three categories based on their demographics: Engaging the diverse coalition, Growing among college-educated suburbanites, and Rebuilding among non-college whites. Download a copy of our Action Plan by visiting EveryDistrict.us/Purple-States to learn more how Democrats should think about strategies for these three types of districts.

Raising Real Money Early: It will take $58 million to run viable campaigns in all 251 districts that are the subject of this report. Getting as much of these resources directly to candidates, not just to independent expenditure programs, has to be a priority. In 2018, Democrats failed to fully invest in state legislative races, as we described in our piece about the results of our 2018 candidate survey. In 2020, dollars need to go directly to Democratic candidates running in these districts as early as possible. With all of the distractions of 2020, we cannot let this opportunity slip away.

Our goal is to make a $1.1 million down payment on the $58 million needed to fund these campaigns. You can help us do that by making a donation to our 2020 Fund at EveryDistrict.us/Donate.

The ability to win in these districts in 2019 and 2020 is vital for questions of power and policymaking. Controlling the states is fundamental to Democrats’ ability to implement a legislative agenda in the 2020s and to gain control at other levels of government. With the continuing dysfunction in Washington that is unlikely to abate even if Democrats pull out a narrow majority in the Senate in 2020, states will be the geography at which most policymaking occurs in the foreseeable future.

A big reason why Democrats face such a huge deficit in the states is that Republicans won back the states in 2010, right before a redistricting year. After they won power (in a midterm election with historically low turnout) they drew new district lines that made it easier for them to keep power in subsequent elections.

We’re coming up to another pre-redistricting election (and this year is our last chance in Virginia and Mississippi), which makes this election cycle so crucial. If Democrats don’t win back the states in 2020, we’ll be locked out of power for another 10 years. And, since the Supreme Court has said they won’t interfere to undo partisan gerrymandering, we could lose our congressional majority, too, if the GOP is in control of drawing the lines.

If we don’t win in the states in 2020, we lose them for a decade as Republicans get a second consecutive chance to gerrymander the states as they see fit. We will have to accept minority rule through the 2020s. And this is not some remote possibility.

In 2018, Democrats won the easy districts — the districts that fundamentally lean Democratic but were held by Republican legislators. Though Democrats did a better job than in recent years, we still left winnable districts on the table. As described in our Purple States Action Plan, we failed to fully invest in candidates in competitive districts. Thanks to gerrymandering, in 2020 Democrats have to compete in districts and states that fundamentally lean Republican. It is going to take substantial focus and resources for Democrats to take back control of the states. That focus is going to have to compete against a crowded landscape. With two dozen presidential candidates and plenty of U.S. House and Senate seats up for grabs, Democrats will need to overcome the distractions and attractions of 2020 to make sure that the states are not left behind.

But what is most exciting about our Purple States Action Plan is this: despite GOP efforts to limit democracy in the states through gerrymandering and voter ID laws, Democrats have a huge opportunity to fight back in 2019 and 2020. The 16 states in this report include both states where Democrats are emerging and states where Democrats are rebuilding the blue wall. If we execute this plan over the next 15 months, we can win back the states and fundamentally re-shape American democracy.

We’ll do this with your help. Visit EveryDistrict.us/Purple-States to learn more about our plan and make a donation to our 2020 Fund to help us get to our goal of raising $1.1 million to support candidates in 2019 and 2020 by visiting EveryDistrict.us/Donate.

We empower you to take action in the states. EveryDistrict.us.