Stop Biden Your Time: Winning the States is about more than Coattails

Yesterday, Jonathan Martin at the New York Times published an article about the lobbying that Democratic leaders in various quarters are doing to encourage the Biden campaign to expand their geographic horizons to invest in states that could pay dividends in the Senate and state legislative races.

As experts on the state legislative landscape, we think that these well-meaning advocates have the story backwards. Biden is undoubtedly polling well in a broad set of states. As you can find in the report we released today, that puts Democrats in a good position to flip some of the most critical state legislative chambers for 2020. But as we have seen time and again, performance at the top of the ticket does not guarantee transformation at the bottom. Despite big nights for Democrats in statewide races in places like Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in 2018, Republicans still control those state legislatures.

There are three fundamental reasons why statewide success won’t necessarily bring change to the state capitols.

  1. Insufficient State Legislative Candidate Fundraising. Across the country, Democratic state legislative candidates continue to trail their Republican opponents. Last month the Republican State Legislative Committee outraised the DLCC nearly two-to-one. In 2018, we found that substantially losing the fundraising battle meant that Democratic state legislative candidates lost, even in districts Democrats carried at the top of the ticket.
  2. Downballot Drop-off. Downballot drop-off occurs when voters select candidates at the top of the ticket, but not for smaller races like state legislative races. Downballot drop-off increases when state legislative candidates do not have the resources they need to compete.
  3. Gerrymandering and Geography. Republican control of the states in 2010 has created highly gerrymandered state legislative chambers. For example, in 2012 Republicans held a supermajority in the Wisconsin Assembly despite losing the popular vote in state legislative races. 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.

What should Democrats be doing? Investing directly in the state legislative campaigns of Democrats running to flip the districts that will have the greatest impact on state legislative control and redistricting, both in places where the Biden campaign is emphasizing and where the current moment has made him viable. Here’s a quick summary of what is possible:

Biden Focus States

The Broader Purple Landscape

If they really want to see change happen in what could be a banner year, state-level leaders should lead the charge to get grassroots supporters excited about the change-making opportunity in the states, so that we can overcome the current fundraising gaps with Republicans.  

How can Biden help the state legislative landscape? The downballot drop-off phenomenon means that increasing the connection between the top of the ticket to state legislative candidates will play large dividends. The Biden campaign should make his likeness and endorsement available in the near future to the candidates in the key districts where his strong support can make the difference in November. The elected leaders in these states who have shown the capacity for broad appeal – the Tammy Baldwins and Sherrod Browns of the world – should do the same.

With this coordinated and broad effort for the state legislative campaigns and districts themselves, Democrats can make more expansive pickups this year. That is what everyone can be working toward.


EveryDistrict PAC is a political organization focused on winning state legislatures through data and dollars. EveryDistrict’s analysis of the competitiveness of every state legislative district is available at Since 2017, EveryDistrict has provided direct financial contributions to over 100 state legislative candidates across seven states through grassroots fundraising efforts. If you’d like to support the state legislative candidates in these purple states who need it most, contribute to EveryDistrict’s Top Ten list here.