Democrats defended every state legislative chamber in their control in 2022, the first midterm elections since 1934 in which the party in control did not lose a chamber. To replicate that record next year, they say they’ll need more money.
A memo from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) sent to donors asks for an additional $10 million for 2024, as well as for Virginia’s legislative elections this fall and any special elections that may emerge in New Hampshire, where Democrats are just three seats away from flipping the state House.
The memo pitches it to donors as an early investment to “protect the path to the presidency” through building the party’s grassroots presence in presidential battleground states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“As of now, we’re not getting the support we need to power this work,” DLCC interim President Heather Williams wrote in the March 1 letter first obtained by CBS News.
“We also simply don’t have the resources of our Republican counterparts, who can call up any of Karl Rove’s billionaire pals to supplement their funding. This, paired with the fact that state legislatures don’t get as much investment as federal races, creates the perfect storm for us to fall behind,” she added.
The DLCC raised $50 million in the 2022 election cycle. Its Republican counterpart, the Republican State Legislative Committee, raised $82 million, in conjunction with its policy partner the State Government Leadership Foundation (SGLF).
Other Democratic groups, such as the States Project, were also involved in 2022 and spent nearly $60 million in state legislative races. The RSLC sent a donor memo last September, with a pitch from President Dee Duncan that read, “The truth is we have been outspent in every recent election cycle.”
“If we want to keep capitalizing on opportunities to win big in what some see as an off-year, we need significantly more resources from our donors to rebuild our war chest,” Williams wrote in the DLCC donor memo.
Williams touted that down ballot Democrats delivered “the best midterm year for Democrats holding the White House in nearly a century.” They added three more trifectas, where one party controls both state chambers and the governorship: the party flipped the Minnesota Senate, both chambers in Michigan and the governor’s seat and state house in Pennsylvania.
Democrats control 17 state government trifectas, the most since 2010, while Republicans hold 22.
In the few months they’ve held control, Democrats in these three states have taken action on abortion. The Michigan Legislature repealed a 1931 abortion ban triggered after Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Minnesota Democrats codified the “fundamental right” to abortion.
Pennsylvania officially locked up its trifecta after three special state House elections in February.
In 2024, both parties are expected to battle for the recently flipped chambers in Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Republicans also have two-seat majorities in both chambers in Arizona to defend in 2024.
“The RSLC will not only be defending our majorities nationwide, but also putting a giant bullseye on states where Republicans can retake chambers,” said RSLC communications director Michael Joyce, adding that the party must “counter the massive influx of cash from the constellation of national liberal organizations.”
Virginia is the most competitive battleground of the four states with legislatures on the ballot this year. New Jersey Democrats have majorities in both chambers, Mississippi is under heavy Republican control, while Republicans are expected to hold Louisiana’s chambers (though the state does have an open governor’s seat).
In Virginia, Democrats are four seats up in the state Senate but four seats down in the House of Delegates, which Republicans flipped in 2021. This year’s elections will be the first with new electoral maps passed by court-appointed special masters, which are expected to be less Republican-leaning than previous iterations of Virginia’s district lines.
Democrats flipped a state Senate seat in Virginia in early January when former NFL player and Virginia Beach City Councilman Aaron Rouse won by just under two points. His win grew Democrats’ majority in the state Senate to four seats, and was praised by the White House for making his campaign “clear about the choice” of abortion access.
“People fundamentally understand that their governors and their state legislature are going to shape abortion policy in the state,” said Virginia-based Democratic strategist Jared Leopold. “And that is a huge problem for Republicans in Virginia, because the path to the majority for either side of Virginia runs through the suburbs.”
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected to ramp up his fundraising and campaigning for Republican down-ballot candidates over the next few months, according to a source familiar with the governor’s plans.
Another state that could be competitive this year is New Hampshire. Democrats are four seats away from taking the state Senate and just three seats from flipping the State House, and both parties know special elections caused by vacancies are a possibility.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley says he’s “optimistic” that Democrats could be positioned to flip the state House by January 2024 — all due to special elections.
“There are numerous vacancies that occur in each cycle by the end of each term. That’s not unusual for there to have been anywhere between 10 to 20 resignations,” Buckley said. “We feel confident that there will be enough special elections to provide that opportunity.”
After a special election in late February to settle a tie from last November, Democrats have another special election in mid-May that could cut into the slim majority Republicans hold.
“With 400 people, just in the general population, there’s a probability that someone could have a family or a life situation that changes that would no longer allow them to be in the House,” said New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Chris Ager, who expressed confidence his party would be ready for any special elections to come.
“It’s very, very, very tight. And with that many people, it’s essentially a volunteer legislature, they only make $100 a year. Attendance is important as well, because on any given day, the majority could shift,” he added.
Democrats already briefly held a majority in the chamber this session. They were able to pass three bills in February, though they are unlikely to see full passage with a Republican controlled Senate and Republican governor.
On whether a Democratic state House in New Hampshire would impact the ongoing discussion with the Democratic National Committee regarding its position in the presidential primary calendar, Buckley, who has said his state will go first regardless of the DNC’s rules, replied, “No.”
The DNC voted to make South Carolina the first to hold a presidential primary in 2024, but New Hampshire will still be first to hold a Republican presidential primary next year.
Buckley doesn’t think the calendar drama will impact Democratic turnout for state legislative races in the state for 2024, and said “the people of New Hampshire are sophisticated enough to realize the dangers of having a Republican president.”
“But our legislative chambers are decided by such a small handful of votes. Anything could have a significant impact in our ability to win a majority in either the House or the Senate,” he added.