Legislative Democrats in Strong Position Heading into 2014

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  • Michael Sergeant
    Michael Sargeant is the Executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
By Michael Sergeant, CP Op-Ed Contributor
July 23, 2013|8:33 am

According to Republicans, it was not supposed to be this way. Coming after the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, Republicans convinced themselves that Election Night 2012 would bring victories across the board for the GOP. When hard data seemed to suggest the opposite, Republicans doubled down: Dick Morris proclaimed that Governor Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. Peggy Noonan declared that the polls were simply wrong because she spotted more Romney lawn signs than Obama.

And it was not just in the race for the White House where Republicans proclaimed themselves indestructible. In the races for state legislatures, Republicans had also convinced themselves that victory was all but certain.

In October, 2012, the President of the Republican State Leadership Committee -- whose charge is to elect Republicans to state legislatures -- boldly predicted that Republicans were "poised to secure the gains made in 2010 while picking up additional legislative seats and chambers around the country."

Then a funny thing happened on the way to Republican victory parties: Americans voted. And not only did President Obama win reelection (despite the soothsaying lawn signs), but in the elections for state legislatures, Democrats netted over 170 new legislative seats across the country and flipped control of eight legislative chambers from Republican to Democratic majorities.

The success of Democrats across the country was the result of thousands of people and millions of dollars working to elect candidates to state legislatures. Since 1995, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has worked directly with state legislative leaders and candidates across the country to enable Democrats running for state legislatures to run professional and successful campaigns that fit their states and their districts.

In 2012, the DLCC broke its record for fundraising, and we worked in more states than ever before. And even in many states where Republicans controlled the redistricting process, Democrats made gains or outright captured the majority.

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In a moment of clarity the day after the 2012 election, the President of the RSLC reflected on why the GOP lost after making bold predictions for victory: "2012 was about as close to a fair fight as you get, and we lost on operations and tactics. There's no getting around that."

Midway into 2013, Democrats are still beating Republicans on operations and tactics.

Take the recent case of a special election in the Kentucky House, which remains one of the few southern chambers with Democratic majorities. Republicans are eager to change that, and last month, the GOP had a golden opportunity to begin that climb: a low-turnout special election in a district that favored Mitt Romney by almost 17 points last fall.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent more than $177,000, easily outspending the Democratic nominee. But when the votes were counted, the Democrat won by a ten-point margin -- meaning the national organization in charge of electing Republicans to state legislatures had spent $55 a vote to lose.

The Democratic victory in Kentucky was the result of national Democrats working with local leaders to ensure Democrats running for state legislatures are in a strong position to win.

Voters are smart, and they know that the Republican Party has embraced policies and rhetoric that are outside the mainstream while Democrats are leading in states by proposing balanced budgets with fair tax codes, working to make sure all students have access to higher education, and investing in bridges, roads and other vital infrastructure.

We see the continued success of legislative Democrats in states like New Jersey and Virginia. Although Governor Chris Christie remains very popular, Democrats still hold a 15-point lead on the legislative ballot question, and Virginia Democrats hold a narrower lead that positions them to make promising gains this fall as well.

And despite the challenge presented by Republican-drawn gerrymanders, voters are moving away from the Republican extremism that they are witnessing in their state legislatures. Democrats lead in North Carolina by nine points on the generic legislative ballot question, and it's easy to see why: after campaigning as moderates, Republicans in the legislature have focused exclusively on right-wing causes like outlawing Sharia law, taking away unemployment benefits, and passing some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in the country. The Republican brand is now so thoroughly tarnished among Tar Heels that a plurality of North Carolina voters agree that their Republican legislature is "a national embarrassment."

Americans want equal rights for gay and lesbian couples and to be protected from gun violence - not just in blue states, but in red and purple states as well. In Florida, 75 percent of voters support civil unions or marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas all support expanded background checks by wide margins.
And Americans want their elected officials to fight for working families. When elected officials in Ohio--the bellwether of bellwether states -- rolled back collective bargaining rights, voters said no, and by a 23-point margin they restored those rights. In Michigan -- Ohio's northern neighbor--Republicans' post-election attack on the rights of working people has prompted similar outrage: A majority of Michigan voters oppose the new law, and by a ten point margin, voters want Democrats running the state legislature.

Compare these states to a state like Minnesota, where Democrats seized control of the state legislature from Republicans in the 2012 election. The Democratic majority passed a fair tax system that raised taxes on the state's highest wage earners and on cigarette sales. Despite claims from the state's Republicans that these taxes were "unnecessary and would harm the state's fragile economy," a clear majority of voters supported the Democrats' decision to do it. Minnesota's budget, despite historic new investments in education, is now in surplus; Democrats have accomplished what two years of slash-and-burn Republican politics could not.

From fighting for working families to ensuring that Americans have access to equal rights, Democrats are on the right side of voters and the right side of history, and we are in a solid position moving into the elections later this year, in 2014, and for elections to come.

Michael Sargeant is the Executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
 

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