Democrats Announce a $10 Million Push for State Legislatures


As the arm of the Democratic Party that works on state legislative races, it is the job of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee to care about the bottom of the ballot. With a $10 million campaign announced on Monday, it is trying to get more voters to care, too.

The $10 million investment, part of a $60 million total that the group previously announced as its target for the 2024 cycle, will fund an unusually early and expansive public push — one intended not only to support candidates, but also to convince voters of the importance of controlling state legislatures.

The money will go to party caucuses in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Most of these are swing states, but red Kansas is included because Democrats hope to break Republicans’ supermajorities there — which would let the state’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, veto legislation with less chance of being overridden.

A broader public-facing campaign is centered on a website that will spotlight and raise money for a cycling lineup of candidates, including in solidly Republican states like Idaho and Oklahoma where the party is trying to make long-term inroads.

The message: Much of the policy that directly affects Americans’ lives is enacted at the state level. That is perhaps most prominently true on abortion, one of the most salient issues for the Democratic base, but it is also true of voting access, gun laws, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and economic programs like paid leave. Republican-led states could supercharge, and Democratic states could constrain, a second Trump administration, and vice versa if President Biden wins.

“It is so crystal clear that regardless of who wins the White House, this Republican agenda — this dangerous MAGA Republican agenda — is going to move through our statehouses,” said Heather Williams, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “We can’t just continue to pay attention to what is happening in Washington, D.C., and our federal races.”

Also true, if less commonly spoken, is that fielding candidates in state legislative races can increase turnout for the presidential and congressional races regardless of the outcome of the state races: the converse of the typical coattails effect in which candidates lower on the ballot benefit from turnout driven by the top.

Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, which recruits and supports young progressives to run for office, said her group’s candidates often encountered voters who seemed enthusiastic about them even if they were unimpressed by Mr. Biden and other national Democratic leaders — a potentially significant dynamic in a presidential race in which many Americans are dissatisfied with their options.

“Most of them presumably are going to show up and also vote the rest of the ballot,” Ms. Litman said, “but they’re doing so at the invitation of the state legislative candidate.”

The first candidates to get a boost from the Democratic committee in its public messaging are from North Carolina — where Republicans secured supermajorities in both chambers after a Democrat switched parties last year, and Democrats hope to break at least one — and Pennsylvania, where Democrats are trying to protect a narrow House majority. More candidates will be highlighted over the course of the summer as states hold their primaries.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee investment — and investments of outside groups like the States Project, which has announced $70 million in spending — follows many years in which Republicans dominated state races even when Democrats did well nationally. That disparity was attributable in part to gerrymandering, but also in part to Democrats’ being outspent and out-organized in state legislative races.

This year, for the first time in three decades, a Democrat is running in every legislative district in Florida. The party is also fielding candidates for every Senate seat in Wisconsin and every House seat in Michigan, as well as unusually high numbers of candidates in red states such as Arkansas and Idaho.

The committee’s Republican counterpart, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has not announced a spending target but has said it expects to have less money than the Democrats, a fact it has tried to spin as a positive.

“It should come as no surprise that state Democrats are running their traditional playbook this cycle — banking on massive investments from the national liberal money machine to try to bail them out for their failed policies that are out of step with voters,” the group’s president, Dee Duncan, said in a statement, adding that he was “confident that Republicans are in a strong position to stave off the massive onslaught of money pouring in from the Democrats.”

In addition to defending majorities in states like Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin — where that job became harder after a court-ordered redrawing of gerrymandered maps — Republicans are trying to regain majorities in Michigan and Pennsylvania and to chip away at Democratic dominance in states like California and New York.



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