South Carolina and Red States

At EveryDistrict we spend a lot of time talking about “purple” states – states that our data work shows to be states where Democrats can make significant gains in the legislature this year. But as all eyes turn to South Carolina and today’s presidential primary, we want to talk (briefly) about “red” states, like South Carolina. As the below chart shows, there are 13 states that we’ve put solidly in the red category, where we expect Democrats to make minimal – if any – legislative gains this year.

*Alaska is in the Purple States category because of a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

We chose our name – EveryDistrict – because it is both literal and aspirational. We have literally done the data work for every state legislative district (and put it in a handy map to make it easy for you to use), and one day we hope to be able to support state legislative candidates in every district. Given how little control Democrats had in the states when we started this work (controlling only 30 chambers to Republicans’ 68), we’ve had to focus our energy and resources on the places where Democrats have the best place of making a strategic gain, like flipping a chamber or breaking a supermajority.

But this work is about much more than whether Democrats or Republicans control a larger number of state legislative chambers. We do this work because we fundamentally believe more people are better off when Democrats are in the majority. Over the past ten years, as Republicans took control of dozens of formerly-Democratic state legislative chambers, we’ve watched as they’ve decimated voting rights, redrawn district lines to their political advantage, refused to expand Medicaid, restricted women’s access to reproductive care, and refused to take action on climate change, to name just a few issues.

It’s because of this belief that we have a 50-state map showing how Democrats can make gains – or maintain their majority – in every state legislative chamber. While we can’t directly support Democratic candidates for all 7,383 state legislative seats right now, we can help people in all 50 states organize and win in competitive districts. 

It’s also important to remember that while the electoral landscape is tough for Democrats in these states, progressive policies are popular. In 2018, voters in Nebraska, Utah, and Idaho passed Medicaid expansion. Voters in Missouri and Arkansas raised the minimum wage. Democrats are winning on policy, and now we have to turn those victories into legislative victories.

Below we give a brief overview of the 13 “red” states on our list. Even though we don’t expect Democrats to make substantive gains in any of these chambers this year, there are districts in each of these states around which activists can organize, either to make incremental gains or defend the seats Democrats currently hold. To learn more, click on a state to see our interactive map. And if you think this resource is useful, make a donation so we can continue to bring you the most up-to-date data on what’s happening in the states.

Arkansas: A state that used to elect Democrats (remember, Bill Clinton was Governor there!), Arkansas is now pretty firmly in Republican hands. This is a state where Democrats need to defend the seats they currently hold, as many Democratic incumbents hold districts that otherwise vote for Republicans (and Democrats saw a net loss in state legislative seats in 2018).

Idaho: Idaho is another state where Democrats need to focus on defending the seats they currently hold, though they saw a net gain of seats in the legislature in 2018. In the House, Democrats could invest in House District 5, a district that fairly reliably votes for top of the ticket Republicans by about 5 points. Paulette Jordan (who ran for Governor in 2018 and is now running for US Senate) held one of the seats in this district (5A) from 2014 to 2018; Republicans won it back in 2018. 

Indiana: Indiana is a state where Democrats could make substantive gains, if they can recreate the coalition that powered previous statewide candidates to victory (see Senator Joe Donnelly’s 2012 race). But in recent years, Indiana has seen a rightward shift (see Senator Joe Donnelly’s 2018 race). In 2018, Democrats saw a net gain of seats in both chambers, and in 2020 there are many districts in both chambers Democrats can compete in.

Kentucky: Kentucky, an ancestrally Democratic state, has also shifted hard to the right in recent years. Primarily, Democrats need to focus on holding the seats they currently have. But Democrats could make gains in both chambers in seats where Democrats have been growing and in seats that previously voted for statewide Democratic candidates. In 2018, Democrats saw a net gain in the House, but a net loss in the Senate.

Missouri: Democrats have seen a string of successes in special elections, but did not make any gains in the 2018 general election. Like Indiana, Missouri is another state where Democrats could make gains if they could recreate the coalition that elected previous statewide candidates (like Senator Claire McCaskill in 2012), but that swung sharply to the right in 2018 (see also Senator McCaskill). 

Nebraska: While Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is nominally nonpartisan, most candidates do identify with a political party. In the 2018 election, Democrats gained two seats. There are two districts with slight Republican leans that Democrats could compete in to grow their numbers.

North Dakota: In 2018, Democrats made gains in both chambers of the North Dakota legislature. In 2020, only the even-numbered House and Senate districts will be on the ballot. Despite that, Democrats can grow their numbers in the legislature by competing in several Obama-Trump districts.

Oklahoma: Democrats suffered heavy losses in the Oklahoma House in 2018. In 2020, Democrats in the state will need to primarily focus on defending the seats they currently hold, as many incumbent Democratic legislators represent Republican-leaning districts.

South Carolina: In 2018, Democrats flipped a State Senate district in a special election; otherwise, there was no change in the partisan composition of either chamber. There is one potentially competitive House district; Democrats primarily need to defend the seats they currently hold in both chambers.

South Dakota: In 2018, Republicans gained a seat in the Senate, and Democrats gained a seat in the House. Democrats can be competitive in a few districts in the Senate and House, but also need to focus on holding their current seats.

Tennessee: In 2018, Democrats had a net gain of one seat in the House and there was no change in the Senate. Tennessee’s Senate is notable for its lack of competitiveness; all districts are either ranked as “Safe Democrat” or “Safe Republican.” In the House, there are a number of incumbents in significantly Republican-leaning seats.

Utah: Democrats gained four seats in the Utah legislature in 2018. There is one potentially competitive seat in the House, but Democrats primarily need to focus on defending the large number of incumbents in Republican-leaning seats.

Wyoming: Democrats hold a number of Republican-leaning House seats that they need to defend in 2020; it is hard to see where Democrats can make gains.