100 days to go: What we need to do between now and Election Day to flip state legislatures

Today marks 100 days to Election Day 2020. On November 9, 2016 this day felt an eternity away, but now, it’s right around the corner.

So, how do things look for Democrats at this key milestone? At the federal level, pretty good. Joe Biden’s polling numbers and fundraising numbers are on the rise. In the U.S. House, Democratic incumbents’ strong cash advantage puts them in a strong position to hold the chamber. In the U.S. Senate, eye-popping fundraising numbers from Democratic challengers – combined with weak polling for GOP incumbents – have put the chamber in play.

But in the states, the prospects for Democrats remain mixed. Right now, Democrats control 39 state legislative chambers, while Republicans control 59. Our data work has identified 13 chambers* where Democrats can compete for the majority this year. Flipping those chambers would flip the balance of power to 52 chambers controlled by Democrats, and only 46 chambers controlled by Republicans. Crucially, it would also give Democrats control of at least one lever of state control (the governorship or a legislative chamber) in 33 states**, ensuring Democrats have a check on the GOP’s unlimited power to control the redistricting process in those states next year. 

Let’s start with the good news. As we outlined in a polling memo earlier this month, the “Biden Bounce” puts a lot of state legislative districts and chambers in play. Click here to read the full memo, and click here to read our state-by-state overview. But a commanding Biden victory alone won’t be enough to help state legislative candidates across the finish line for two reasons:

  1. Downballot Roll-off. Downballot roll-off occurs when voters select candidates at the top of the ticket, but not for smaller races like state legislative races. We saw this happen in state after state in 2018, where candidates like U.S. Senator Kristin Sinema (AZ), Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Governor Tom Wolf (PA), Beto O’Rourke (TX), and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) won in state legislative districts that also re-elected a Republican state legislator. 
  2. Gerrymandering and Geography. Republican control of the states in 2010 has created highly gerrymandered state legislative chambers. At the same time, the geography of where Democrats need to win votes to win statewide can differ from what’s needed to win in the districts necessary to shift control of state legislative chambers. That means that even if one thought the Biden campaign were the vehicle to make state legislative change, it is unlikely that a savvy presidential campaign would invest heavily in all the communities that are needed for state legislative race wins.

So, how do we overcome this? In state after state in 2018, well-funded Democratic state legislative candidates beat entrenched GOP incumbents, but underfunded candidates lost winnable districts. 

The bad news is that with only 100 days left to go, state legislative candidates in flippable districts still don’t have the resources they need to run winning campaigns. To-date, EveryDistrict has endorsed 66 candidates across 11 flippable chambers. These 66 candidates are not running in districts that it would be nice to win. These 66 candidates are running in the districts we have to flip to win the narrowest of majorities in these 11 chambers. And right now, Republicans have a $2.2 million fundraising advantage.

But as the table above shows, that advantage isn’t evenly distributed across states. And when you break it down candidate-by-candidate, there are some candidates who are doing quite well, thanks to the giving capacities of their personal networks and support from other in-state and national organizations.

At EveryDistrict, our mission is to empower you to take action to flip state legislatures blue by identifying high-impact ways for you to support candidates in flippable districts. You can help close this fundraising gap by giving to 20 candidates who have raised less and have less money in the bank than their GOP opponent.

We’re confident that these candidates are running strong campaigns (that’s why we endorsed them!). We also know they’re working hard, and many of them actually outraised their opponent in the last campaign finance period. But they’re running against GOP candidates with deep pockets who have had a long time to build up a fundraising advantage. Chip in what you can today to help close the gap – every dollar makes a difference. 

A question we get asked a lot is: Why give to state legislative candidates? There are three key reasons:

  1. Power. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, voting policy is set at the state level. And right now, that puts Republicans squarely in charge of voting rules in a majority of states (remember when the Wisconsin GOP made voters vote in-person in March?). 2020 is also a redistricting year. In a majority of states across the country, it will be the state legislators we elect this year who draw their own district lines and congressional district lines for the next decade. If we leave the GOP in control, we’ll get drawn out of our current congressional majority.
  2. Policy. State legislatures play an integral role in policymaking in our country. Texas and Wisconsin haven’t expanded Medicaid. Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Iowa’s minimum wage is the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. On everything from voting rights to access to abortion to protecting the planet for future generations, Republicans have been in the policymaking driver’s seat in these states. But we can change that this year and bring progressive policymaking to these state capitals.
  3. Maximum Impact. State legislative races are much cheaper than a presidential, U.S. Senate, or even a congressional campaign. Donating to state legislative candidates in states we need to win to win back the White House, flip the Senate, and hold our House majority is funding the organizing work that needs to happen for us to win up and down the ballot in November.

Another question we get asked a lot is: Why give through EveryDistrict?

What makes the EveryDistrict model unique is the breadth of candidates we work with and the depth of analysis we do to identify high-impact giving opportunities. In each state that we work in, we make sure to endorse enough candidates to make that strategic gain.

Our work with these campaigns doesn’t end at the endorsement process. We then track key metrics about our endorsed candidates and their Republican opponents throughout the cycle. We pay close attention to campaign finance reports to understand the gap between our candidates’ fundraising and that of their GOP opponents. We also receive behind-the-scenes updates from our candidates on their fundraising progress in between these public reports. 

While there are other groups who work with and support state legislative candidates, our strategy is unique among those groups. Some groups will only endorse a narrow set of candidates who align with their interests. Some groups will endorse a broad range of candidates, send them a one-time check, and that will end their engagement. Our role as a “gap-filler” stands out. Learning the lessons of Virginia in 2017 – where most support concentrated in a narrow set of districts and Democrats came one seat shy of a majority – we endorse and monitor a sweet-spot of campaigns in each of our target states: enough to ensure Democrats can win a majority, but not too many that resources are going to districts we’re not likely to flip.

Our monitoring and direct-donate options are unique, too. Those of our endorsed candidates who turn into strong individual fundraisers, or those who attract a large amount of support from other in-state or national organizations, will receive less support from us than those who demonstrate that they’re running a strong campaign but need a fundraising boost.

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* AZ Senate, AZ House, FL House, IA Senate, IA House, MI House, MN Senate, NC Senate, NC House, PA Senate, PA House, TX House, WI House

** AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, IL, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MT?, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OR, PA, RI, TX, VT, VA, WA, WI