Column: Smart Democratic strategy a welcome sight
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean announced this week that over the next two years his group Democracy for America will spend in state races with an eye toward building a Democratic advantage around the country. “A little money goes a long way in these state legislative races,” Dean noted. To that end, his group will spend $750,000 this year on behalf of five candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates.
It’s hard to overstate how smart a way this is for liberal groups to invest their time and money. Virginia is a great case study for why state-level gains are key. Democrats control both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats, and the state was key to President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. Despite this, Republicans control all three statewide offices (governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general) and the House of Delegates, and they have the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate. The result? Republicans have had little difficulty pushing a strong conservative agenda in Virginia.
This week, for example, Gov. Bob McDonnell introduced an amendment that would ban abortion coverage in the health insurance exchange established under the Affordable Care Act. Given the GOP’s decisive advantage in the General Assembly, there’s little doubt this will pass. Virginia’s votes for Democratic Senate and presidential candidates suggest they aren’t hostile to Roe v. Wade. But these voters aren’t the ones turning out for off-year state elections.
This dynamic was clear in the last round of midterm elections. In addition to losing control of the House in 2010, Democrats suffered huge losses on the state level. In Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and North Carolina, Republicans won full or partial control of state legislatures, wrestling majorities away from Democrats. Not only did this give Republicans power to set agendas and make policy – to, say, break public-sector unions, pass voter identification laws and restrict abortion access – but it also allowed them to gerrymander congressional districts and ensure a more durable GOP majority in Congress.
Winning control of governorships and state legislatures is key if Democrats want to build political strength, advance priorities and secure policy gains long-term.