Six appears to be the magic number this year for Republicans, up and down the ballot.
Veteran nonpartisan election-watcher Stu Rothenberg opined last week that "if the GOP fails to capture the Senate this year, 2016 could turn into an unmitigated disaster for the party." Rothenberg suggests that with a sour national climate and extraordinarily Republican friendly maps, failure to net those six seats "will only lead observers to conclude Democratic campaign operatives are far superior to the GOP’s." And they'd be right.
So it was interesting that our counterparts in state legislative politics – the Republican State Leadership Committee – laid down an identical marker in an op-ed in The Hill: The cycle will be a failure for Republicans, according to RSLC President Matt Walter, if Republicans come away with majorities in fewer than 66 legislative chambers (requiring the same net gain of six).
In reality, Republicans won’t come close to that. Nevertheless, I will take this rare opportunity to agree with our counterparts: In a Republican year, with Republican-drawn maps, Republicans should indeed be embarrassed when they fail to meet their benchmark of six new GOP majorities.
2012 was a very successful election for state legislative Democrats. We gained eight new majorities, defended eight other narrow Democratic majorities, netted nearly 200 seats nationwide, and gained seats in seven states that were carried by Mitt Romney. After every big election victory, the winners have a lot more to defend the next cycle. And frankly, Democrats aren't afraid of playing a little defense.
Our incumbent legislators are cleaning up the Tea Party's messes in states we won in 2012. In Minnesota, for example, Democrats ended the pattern of Tea Party-inspired state government shutdowns, made historic investments in education, and are leading the Midwest's strongest economic recovery. Republicans around the country can barely open their mouths without uttering something offensive to women, minorities or working Americans.
Meanwhile, Democrats remain on offense every place the Tea Party remains in power. Look for possible chamber flips in New Hampshire, Iowa, Montana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Arizona, and Wisconsin.
Democrats there are running effective, highly organized campaigns, helped in many cases by direct investments from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and support from efforts like our Grassroots Victory Program. This expansive field operation has trained and deployed more than 300 Democratic organizers in tossup districts in 26 states. As a result, early voting information available so far suggests Democrats are crushing Republicans in the crucial metric of turning out infrequent voters who skipped the 2010 Election.
This would be in keeping with our history. Democrats gained legislative seats and chambers in four of the past five election cycles – in good years and bad. The only aberration in Democrats’ decade-long state legislative winning streak was the 2010 Republican wave, which admittedly came at the worst possible moment for Democrats because it allowed Republicans to gerrymander much of the country a few months later.
As a result, in 2012, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) was re-elected Speaker of the House – even though Democrats handily won the popular vote for Congress.
To correct this anti-democratic result, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee recently unveiled Advantage 2020 – Democrats’ $70 million, multi-cycle effort to win key legislatures in time for the 2020 Census and redistricting in 2021.
Advantage 2020 begins, obviously enough, this year. We remain bullish about most top battlegrounds, but success this year from a redistricting perspective is far more complicated.
Consider that the Wisconsin Senate is in play this year, as it likely will be in every election from now until redistricting. But majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate could be in play next cycle. The same could be said of other rapidly-changing states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida. These large, traditionally Republican states were the foundation of Republicans’ nationwide gerrymandering advantage two years ago.
If Advantage 2020 succeeds in pushing any of these legislatures into play for Democrats in future cycles – by gaining ground this year, or simply holding last cycle’s significant gains – then Democrats’ strategy for 2020 will be going according to plan.
If Democrats do even better – holding most or all of our most vulnerable majorities or even adding a couple – then to paraphrase Rothenberg, Republicans will have a difficult time explaining how they will do better at the state level in a more difficult political environment.
Democrats, meanwhile, will have started another state legislative winning streak. Only this streak might just stretch into a new decade.
Sargeant is executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.