Skip to Content

Why these Democrats think 25 state legislative races are the key to securing the 2024 presidential election

<i>Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images</i><br/>The Pennsylvania State Capitol is pictured.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
The Pennsylvania State Capitol is pictured.

By Edward-Isaac Dovere, CNN

Sitting at the Gee Whiz Diner in Brooklyn last summer, Daniel Squadron and Vicky Hausman cooked up a simple plan they believed could save American democracy.

On Tuesday, they’re putting it into action, announcing a $20 million investment in state legislative races in what they think are three key states.

Squadron, a former New York state senator who resigned to start a group called The States Project (formerly Future Now), and Hausman, a despondent liberal who’d left a career in business to co-found the super PAC Forward Majority, were worried about one thing: preventing another attempt to overthrow the presidential election after seeing former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election he lost in 2020.

Before Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him, the perfunctory process of states sending their votes to the Electoral College had rarely been questioned. The Electoral Count Act of 1887 was a musty piece of legislation only discussed in academic circles.

Squadron and Hausman walked out of the diner with a plan to prevent the Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures — all of which are currently controlled by the GOP — from ignoring the popular vote results in future presidential elections, sending their own electors and mounting a slow-motion, legalized coup. Those three states were among those with the smallest margins of victory for Joe Biden in 2020, and all quickly became hotspots for GOP legislative leaders championing attempts to overturn their states’ results.

Those efforts ultimately failed, but they were enough to push these two Democrats to try to stop GOP-led legislatures from ever having the power that some Republicans wished they’d had in 2020.

The aim is to flip at least one legislative chamber in each of those three states this fall. Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania are among the states with the narrowest Republican majorities in chambers in the state legislature. To Squadron and Hausman, that’s reason for hope.

They’re prioritizing 40 races, with the aim of winning just 25 that could flip at least one chamber of the legislature in each state, with their organizations putting up $10 million each. That’s a level of spending on state legislative races that Democrats have never had from outside groups before. In the 2020 cycle, the anti-gerrymandering group led by former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, All on the Line, spent several million, spread across many more states.

“If we don’t make progress in state legislatures through this work, there’s a question whether the Democratic presidential candidate should spend a dime in these states in 2024,” Squadron said.

Money can go far in these small, local races, but the fights have grown ever more intense. Democrats spent about $20 million in Pennsylvania races in 2020 in a failed attempt to take the majority in either chamber, fighting in districts gerrymandered by Republican majorities.

Jessica Post, the executive director of the state legislature-focused Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said she’s happy to have the help, but is hopeful that the money will be spent building the kind of party infrastructure she thinks wins races over time, whether in this year’s elections or beyond. She noted that her group is expecting to exceed the already record-breaking 2020 cycle total of $51 million in spending, which itself pales in comparison to the roughly $100 million in spending that the comparable Republican group invested in largely holding onto power in those state races in 2020.

But, Post said, given how little attention state legislative campaigns tend to get from Democrats, “We’re excited to have allies in this fight.”

It’s all about 2024

Squadron and Hausman have only one agenda: securing the 2024 election results — regardless of which party wins. They’re particularly worried with Trump making moves to position himself as the Republican nominee and supporting state politicians committed to overturning elections in his favor, although they fear that kind of anti-democratic behavior may exist for any GOP presidential candidate.

In addition to donating money either directly to Democratic candidates or to caucuses and other Democratic legislative election groups in the states, the States Project is recruiting and training candidates and campaign staff, buying ads online and providing operational resources and guidance for the largely less experienced candidates, down to the details of how many doors to knock on and how. Squadron has a team of state legislative campaign veterans on staff for the newer candidates and their aides to call on for advice and tips.

The $10 million from Forward Majority, the super PAC Hausman co-founded to boost Democrats running for state legislatures, will be spent on tactics not directly coordinated with campaigns, mostly focused on its own local level ads to combat disinformation, build targeted partisan voter registration drives and fund independent expenditures to boost Democratic turnout. Some Democrats remain skeptical of the super PAC because of big promises to raise $100 million over the 2018 and 2020 cycles and its focus on winning state legislative seats in Florida and Texas, where majorities were far out of reach. But Hausman said the group is already well on its way to raising the money committed to this particular effort.

State legislative races tend to come cheap, with low turnout and tiny margins despite how state capitals have taken on an ever larger role amid legislative stalemate in Washington, DC. In 2020, a combined total of 46,000 votes determined which party was in majority control in 13 different state legislature chambers across the country.

Even as Democrats have stepped up their efforts to win these races over the past several cycles so that they’d have more control in the redistricting process this year, they’re far behind generations of Republican efforts to dominate state legislative campaigns.

“The idea that Trump, Trumpism and anti-democratic authoritarianism are separate, or emanate from the Oval Office is the crisis,” Squadron said, holding up three fingers on one hand tight together to illustrate. “They’re the same thing. And they’ve been alive and well in state legislatures, going back, certainly going back 40 years.”

Redistricting creates opportunities

November is shaping up to be a tough environment for any Democratic candidate, but the countervailing reason for optimism, Squadron and Hausman believe, is in new district maps. In Michigan, the 38-member state senate heads into elections with 22 seats held by Republicans and 16 held by Democrats. But by Forward Majority’s analysis, the state’s new nonpartisan redistricting process produced a map with 20 seats won by Biden and 18 won by Trump.

After redistricting, they now need just four net gains in Arizona to give Democrats the majority in the state House, and new maps have created multiple opportunities for both the state House and Senate in the Phoenix metro area. Enough state legislative districts in the new Pennsylvania maps were carried by Biden, according to Forward Majority, that they alone contain a path to the majority in the state’s general assembly if Democrats can carry all of them.

Now that Democrats have analyzed these numbers and maps, “there’s a real moment when everyone who’s felt paralyzed and scared and concerned can actually start to get to work and start to strategically invest,” Hausman said.

Carol Glanville is certainly hoping so. A first-time state legislative candidate in West Michigan, she’s already gotten her first $5,000 check from the States Project for what will first be a special election for the seat in May and then move immediately into another campaign in the fall. Just a few weeks in to being part of the States Project’s focus, she said she’s also already seeing the benefits. “Even knowing what to ask for and expect is new to me,” she said.

Glanville said she never would have expected for a sleepy state House special election to be caught up with the fate of American democracy. But her Republican opponent, RJ Regan, has spent much of his candidacy baselessly talking about how the 2020 election was stolen and how, if he wins, he’ll come up with a way to “decertify” election results.

“We need people who are going to go to the state legislature and guarantee democracy,” Glanville said. “If we’re looking ahead all the way to 2024, we have 2022 to see where we land with the majority.”

‘We all know how important this is’

Squadron, Hausman and the Democratic candidates and operatives they’re working with know that talking about preserving democracy doesn’t seem to be moving many voters for the moment.

“Depending on the districts, there are some candidates that talk about it more, and there are some candidates that stick a lot more to the kitchen table issues,” said Trevor Southerland, the executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. But, he added, “it’s in the back of everybody’s mind, even if we’re not talking about it. We all know how important this is.”

The way Squadron tells the story, when he told a major figure in the Democratic Party, whose name he won’t reveal, his fear in the summer of 2020 that state legislatures could potentially mess with Electoral College results, this person “suggested I take off my tinfoil hat.”

Then, after the 2020 election was called for Biden and most Democrats were celebrating, Squadron said he had “a sinking feeling” that many in his party were letting their exuberance blind them to just how deep a problem remained. By the time fake alternate electors were being sent to the National Archives and rioters were storming the US Capitol, he felt like he was seeing what he’d heard about for years in conversations in state capitals relayed to him by friends in the legislatures.

These days, when Squadron goes on about election results potentially being overturned, he says he gets a different response.

“This isn’t just about Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — because it certainly won’t end there. If the voters of Arizona are overruled by state lawmakers, it will signal the end of free and fair elections for every American, in each and every state,” Squadron said. “This is about saving democracy in America.”

He’s spoken recently to that person who told him to take off his tinfoil hat in 2020. Feelings have changed.

“They’re totally focused on this thing,” Squadron said. “It’s an absolutely top-tier concern.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


News Channel 3-12 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content