The Democrats were able to defend every state legislature they control this year in what was the first midterm election since 1934 in which the ruling party did not lose a chamber.
They have also been able to flip chambers in several states, a shift from previous midterm cycles where Democrats have struggled at the state level. In Pennsylvania, Democrats narrowly gained control of the state house for the first time since 2010. They overturned the Minnesota Senate and both houses in Michigan, giving the party a trifecta in both states. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, Democrats prevented Republicans from gaining supermajorities, protecting the Democratic governors’ veto power. And in New Hampshire, control of the House of Representatives remains unknown nearly two weeks after the election.
In a memo first made available to CBS News, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) said the victories were a lesson up and down for Democrats.
“Democrats made history in the state legislatures this year — defying odds, defying political wisdom, and laying out a blueprint for democratic victories at the state legislature level,” wrote DLCC President Jessica Post. Crediting early investment and support from local leaders, she said this decade, unlike 2010, Democrats will be able to go on the offensive. Now the DLCC is asking the party to continue building from scratch.
Post argued that some of the obstacles Democrats have faced this year stemmed from GOP control of some of the country’s state legislatures, since it is the legislature that often controls the way congressional districts are drawn .
“Democratic efforts to control the U.S. House of Representatives are more difficult because Democrats have failed to invest in state legislatures earlier,” the Post wrote. “Congress Democrats ran in many states in districts manipulated by Republican legislatures. If Democrats are going to fight the MAGA agenda and make our country better for all Americans, that work has to start in the state legislatures.”
The successes at state level follow the redistribution. There are many reasons behind Democrat victories in 2022, according to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), but investing in state-level races has been part of it.
“It’s been a big lesson of the last decade that Democrats needed to focus more on the states and state-level infrastructure, and I think you’ve seen how the party has really focused on that in recent cycles, and 2022 was the culmination of this investment,” said NDRC President Kelly Burton.
The NDRC started its work before the actual reallocation process. Compared to the previous decade, Republican control of the redistribution process has declined by more than 20%. Burton said without such efforts, the results for Democrats would have been worse. She believes the party will continue to invest heavily at the state level because it pays off.
The DLCC began sending funds to candidates for the 2022 legislature last fall and released its strategy identifying what it believes to be the most competitive states in the spring. In total, DLCC has raised and spent US$50 million this cycle, exceeding the mid-terms of 2018. The finance team also helped state partners raise more than $105 million for goals this election season.
The memo noted that two main issues were at the fore during this election cycle as part of its winning strategy: abortion rights and protecting democracy.
Recognizing early on that abortion rights would be a major factor in state general elections, the DLCC launched its States to Save Roe website in January, well before the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The topic “at every turn” was then used further.
The committee also worked to link all Republicans to the so-called “MAGA extremists” and warned Republicans of an existential threat to democracy. As part of this, they targeted state officials like Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano, who was in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 for former President Trump’s speech.
At the same time, candidates continued to raise issues about how to cut costs, the memo said, blunting some of Republicans’ attacks amid rising inflation. Some efforts have included direct relief checks, tax refunds, or measures to reduce child and healthcare costs.
While the DLCC is urging the party to build on the achievements of 2022, it has not been alone in its efforts to increase the number of Democrats in state legislatures and senates. The States Project invested nearly $60 million in state chambers, most in a single cycle through an outside effort.
Now looking to 2024, the DLCC is helping to defend majorities and turn over seats in states like New Hampshire and Arizona. Next year, Virginia is also a battleground with its off-year elections.
While Republicans lost chambers in 2022, they saw representation increase in several states. In Florida, where the party already had a trifecta, Republicans won supermajorities in both the House and Senate. In Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin they were also able to win supermajorities in at least one chamber. In Oregon, GOP candidates also won seats — ending the state’s Democratic supermajority.
In a memo to donors after the election, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) said it had had its best fundraising cycle yet, but pointed to significant spending disadvantages. Overall, the RSLC spent a record $30 million, but was outnumbered four to one by Democratic groups combined at the state legislative level.
It’s not yet clear how much outside Republican groups have spent on legislative races.