Which districts should Democrats prioritize in 2019-2020?
In Part I of our Purple State series, we summarized the findings of our new Purple States Report on the demographics and competitiveness of the most critical 2019-2020 state legislative districts. In Part II below, we drill down on the Priority Districts for the next 15 months.
In 2019 and 2020, Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to fundamentally reshape the states. The benefits of success? The ability to control the redistricting process and state policy. The costs of failure? Another decade of undemocratic GOP gerrymanders and an extreme agenda implemented in the states.
Given the stakes, Democrats should seek to make the largest possible dent in Republican control of the states. In our Purple States Report, we identified 16 states where Democrats can pick up 251 seats between now and November 2020. Each of those districts needs targeted resources to train candidates and provide ample resources to run a successful campaign.
Most important, however, are the 112 Priority Districts that we have identified in 15 chambers across the country. These are the seats that we think are most winnable in places where winning can mean a change in power. The table below lists the 15 Priority Chambers, how many districts Democrats need to flip, and the minimum raise needed to run a competitive campaign:
How do we measure competitiveness?
EveryDistrict has done extensive data analysis to identify the most competitive districts across the country. For every state legislative district across the country, we have developed a Legislative District Index (LDI) score. The LDI calculates the expected vote margin based on a weighted average of statewide election results as they played out in the district. A district with an LDI score of 5, for example, votes for statewide Democratic candidates by five points on average.
Among the 112 priority seats held by Republicans, there are districts that Lean Democratic, Lean Republican, and Favor Republicans.
- Lean Democratic – These districts are held by Republicans but tend to vote for Democrats in statewide elections, with an LDI at 0 or greater. These represent the most likely pickup opportunities in 2019 and 2020. EveryDistrict has identified 44 priority seats that Lean D.
- Lean Republican – These districts are held by Republicans and tend to slightly lean Republican in statewide elections, with an LDI less than 0 through -5. These represent the second tier of pickup opportunities in 2019 and 2020. EveryDistrict has identified 44 priority seats that Lean R.
- Favor Republican – These districts are held by Republicans and tend to vote for Republicans more consistently and by larger margins than the “Lean” districts, with an LDI of less than -5 and usually no less than -10. They still are within the realm of possibility in wave election years like 2006, 2008, or 2018 and are must wins to overcome the worst Republican gerrymanders. EveryDistrict has identified 24 priority seats that Favor R.
The districts are there, but there is no doubt that it will be a bit of an uphill climb. Only 40% of districts are the most winnable “Lean D” seats. In our Purple States Report and over the next few weeks, we’ll talk in more detail about what it will take to win challenging state house seats. Below, we break down the opportunity in each priority state and chamber.
Arizona Senate: Leans GOP (1 Lean D, 0 Lean R, 4 Favor R)
Arizona is a rapidly changing state and 2018 federal election results point to real opportunities for Democrats. The reasons for optimism in Arizona are the narrow two-seat GOP majority and the relatively inexpensive cost of races in the state. While the winnable districts tilt red, Democrats came within 4,000 votes, representing less than 1% of all votes cast, of flipping the chamber in 2018.
Arizona House: Leans GOP (0 Lean D, 0 Lean R, 7 Favor R)
Democrats made strong progress in the Arizona House in 2018, flipping four seats. While the remaining seats lean Republican, Democrats had several close losses in 2018 and the relatively inexpensive cost of races in the state means a smaller investment will go a long way. Where Democrats fell short in 2018, more effective strategies to turn out and persuade voters are required.
Iowa Senate: Leans GOP (2 Lean D, 7 Lean R)
In 2018, Democrats saw a two-seat net loss in the Iowa Senate. Half of the Senate will be up in 2020, and Democrats need to flip eight seats to win the majority. Even with only half of the Senate on the ballot, Democrats have nine priority seats they can compete in for the majority. Senate races in Iowa are relatively inexpensive, but too many 2018 candidates did not meet the minimum funding threshold.
Iowa House: Leans Democratic (5 Lean D, 5 Lean R)
Democrats had a stronger performance in the Iowa House in 2018, netting five seats. Democrats only need to flip four more seats to win back the chamber, and there are ten priority districts that Democrats can compete in to win the majority. Five of these districts lean Democratic, and another five lean only slightly Republican. These opportunities make clear that we can win back Iowa.
Kansas Senate: Beatable Supermajority (2 Lean D, 4 Lean R, 0 Favor R)
Democrats need to flip three seats to break the supermajority in the Kansas Senate. There are two seats that lean Democratic and four seats that lean slightly Republican that Democrats can compete in to do so. After winning the Governorship in 2018, breaking the Kansas supermajority would give Democrats significant leverage in policymaking, creating a real opportunity to expand Medicaid.
Kansas House: Beatable Supermajority (2 Lean D, 4 Lean R)
Democrats need to flip one seat to break the supermajority in the Kansas House. There are two seats that lean Democratic and four seats that lean slightly Republican that Democrats can compete in to do so.
Michigan House: Leans Democratic (1 Lean D, 3 Lean R)
Democrats are in a strong position to flip the Michigan House in 2020. They need to flip four seats to do so, and there is one Democratic-leaning district and three slightly Republican-leaning districts that Democrats can compete in for the majority. For under $1 million, Democrats can make sure these districts have the minimum-necessary funding.
Minnesota Senate: Likely Democratic (4 Lean D, 3 Lean R)
All Minnesota Senate districts will be on the ballot in 2020; none were on the ballot in 2018. Democrats only need to flip two seats to flip the chamber, and there are seven priority districts that Democrats can compete in for the majority. Senate Democrats can build on the strong momentum from House candidates in 2018, where Democrats flipped 18 seats to win back the majority.
Mississippi Senate: Beatable Supermajority (2 Lean D, 2 Lean R, 0 Favor R)
Democrats need to flip two seats to break the supermajority in the Mississippi Senate. There are four winnable seats that Democrats can compete in to do so. Budget bills require a 3/5 majority to pass, meaning that breaking the supermajority would give Democrats significant leverage in policymaking.
Mississippi House: Beatable Supermajority (4 Lean D, 1 Lean R)
Democrats need to flip four seats to break the supermajority in the Mississippi House. There are five priority seats that Democrats can compete in to do so. Mississippi state legislative campaigns require a minimal amount of funding to be competitive.
Pennsylvania Senate: Leans GOP (2 Lean D, 1 Lean R, 2 Favor R)
Democrats have flipped six Pennsylvania Senate seats since 2016. In 2018, half of the Senate will be on the ballot, and there are five somewhat challenging seats that Democrats can flip. Pennsylvania Senate races are some of the most expensive races, but the investment is needed to make sure candidates in these districts can run campaigns that can win.
Pennsylvania House: Leans Democratic (7 Lean D, 8 Lean R)
Democrats have netted 11 Pennsylvania House seats since 2016. In 2018, Democrats need to flip nine more seats to take the majority, and there are 15 seats that lean Democratic and slightly Republican that Democrats can win to flip the chamber. Pennsylvania House districts require significantly less funding than Senate races to be competitive.
Texas House: Leans GOP (0 Lean D, 1 Lean R, 11 Favor R)
The Texas House has some of the most Republican LDI scores that make their way into our target list. Why is that? Fueled by a strong top of the ticket and rapidly changing demographics, Democrats picked up a whopping 12 seats in the Texas House in 2018. In 2020, Democrats need to flip an additional nine seats to flip the chamber. We have identified 12 competitive seats, including nine that Beto won in 2018, that have rather negative LDIs but the right (or left) shifting demographics. Candidates can be competitive with a $250,000 raise.
Virginia Senate: Likely Democratic (3 Lean D, 3 Lean R, 0 Favor R)
Democrats need to flip two seats to flip the Virginia Senate. We have identified six seats that Democrats can flip to win a commanding majority. Virginia Senate races are expensive – candidates need to raise $1 million at minimum to be competitive – but Virginia has swung sharply to the left and seen strong Democratic gains in recent years. This funding will have a strong return on investment.
Virginia House: Likely Democratic (8 Lean D, 3 Lean R)
Democrats also need to flip two seats to flip the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2017, Democrats flipped a record-breaking 15 seats. This year, aided by new district lines from court-ordered redistricting, Democrats can flip an additional 11 priority seats to win a strong majority. This chamber offers one of the best opportunities to not only win, but to build a strong and enduring Democratic majority.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back soon with Part III, a deep dive into the resources needed to win these districts and more.