Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) aimed to raise $400 million to help flip state legislatures from red to blue in the 2020 elections.
The thinking went like this: Democrats were frustrated after the 2010 midterm elections because Republicans held legislative majorities in states where lawmakers draw legislative and congressional district maps. So Democrats sought to turn the tables in time for the next decennial drawing, after the 2020 census.
The 2018 elections gave them reason to hope. In that election cycle, Democrats captured six state legislative chambers from Republicans, all of which NDRC had targeted. While the 2018 national Democratic Party “blue wave” failed to win control of the legislature in my state of Pennsylvania, Democrats did gain 11 seats in the state house and six seats in the senate – getting half way toward flipping the General Assembly and making Pennsylvania not only a prime swing state for 2020 but also a prime target at the legislative level this year.
Then, in 2019, Democrats – again with NDRC’s help – turned the Virginia legislature blue, raising expectations even further. These results, combined with enthusiastic anti-Trump sentiment and a purported $400 million war chest, seemed to portend another Democratic wave this year. It didn’t happen. Not even close.
The NDRC targeted 13 legislative chambers in nine states – and flipped none. Republicans expanded their majorities in several of these states, including Florida, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The GOP captured both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature, gaining a trifecta in that state, where Republicans also hold the governorship.
And that $400 million? According to an NDRC email, it turned out to be closer to $7 million. Still, the Democrats did raise nearly $90 million for their red-to-blue effort, compared with more than $60 million raised by Republicans.
Why, then, did their efforts fail so spectacularly? Simply put: While voters showed that they didn’t care much for President Trump’s style, they also clearly rejected Democrats’ substance.
In Pennsylvania, voters resoundingly rejected Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s far-reaching COVID business lockdown – aided and abetted by Democratic legislators – and other aspects of the progressive policy agenda, including calls to defund police. The winning candidates ran against Wolf and his party. As one Democrat operative put it, the left’s efforts in Pennsylvania “hit a big, giant red wall.” But it’s not only in Pennsylvania or in state legislatures where the Democrats’ policies failed to woo voters.
While control of the U.S. Senate will be determined by runoff elections in Georgia in January, Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives (though they remain in the minority).
Voters also “mostly” said no to tax increases on the ballot, as the Wall Street Journal characterized it. Such measures failed in Alaska, California, and Illinois; Colorado voters passed a tax cut. Joe Biden has claimed a mandate, but his one victory amid a wave of Democrat defeat suggests otherwise. The progressive policies he campaigned on – free college, more government health care, higher taxes – fell flat with voters. Down-ballot Democratic candidates paid the price.
While Biden supporters celebrate victory, Democrats should be concerned about the future of a progressive policy agenda that proved an utter failure at the ballot box.