In July 2014, I wrote that “Democrats need to focus on state legislatures (or stay doomed)”. Here’s what I argued at the time:
Democrats aren’t focusing enough on taking the steps necessary to correct the districting imbalance that’s hurting them so badly. That would boil down, essentially, to investing a lot of money right now into the state parties of every Democratic-leaning state, swing state, and Republican-trending-Democratic-demographic state in the country to recruit, train, and finance candidates in state legislative races and governor races in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020.
If executed well, Democrats would be in a position to reasonably expect in 2020 (barring some catastrophic political wave against them that year) to win a lot of majorities in state legislatures all over, to prevent Republicans from extending the post-2010 maps that have been so weighted against Democrats in Congressional races. At the very least, Democratic-led legislatures could implement fairer, nonpartisan redistricting systems that take away the self-serving bias of having legislators redraw their own districts.
We’re going to panic in October 2020 — right before the election that will determine the next round of post-census redistricting nationwide — when we suddenly realize we needed 3-4 cycles (e.g. starting 2014 or 2016) to ramp back up toward legislative majorities in a lot of states by election night in November 2020. That year will be a presidential year when the Democratic base really turns out, unlike in the 2010 non-presidential cycle. But it won’t make a bit of difference if the state parties all over the country haven’t recruited electable legislative candidates. They’re going to need consistent national Democratic support for the next six and a half years to make that happen.
Without that effort, Democrats can look forward to another ten years of Republican domination on multiple levels or full-stop obstruction of all Democratic agenda points.
Some further reflections from the vantage point of a couple years later, for legislative and other races:
For maximum effectiveness, we need open seat primaries in heavily Democratic areas plus primary wins to nominate challengers in Republican areas. Only social democrats will recruit winnable candidates. The Clinton wing is uninterested in downballot and always has been.
The Democratic party institutions’ recruiters are also, unfortunately, terrible at assessing true electability. If we keep recruiting multi-millionaires with political last names to run on bipartisan budget cuts & entitlement reform, we will lose 2018. Democratic candidates who run as Lite Republicans in 2018 will lose to the real thing 90% of the time. We can’t faceplant again.
Federally, legislatively, and gubernatorially, all post-November 2016 energy has to be on recruiting Dems with a new message that turns out the existing base heavily plus turns out new votes from people who might not otherwise show up. Our only shot is bold progressivism (social democracy) in Dem areas and low-income economic populism in poor Republican areas. (These are similar or the same policies prescriptions but somewhat differently messaged.)