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ICYMI: Democracy Docket – DLCC President Heather Williams: Democrats’ Secret Weapon in 2024

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Instead of Biden’s Poll Numbers, Democrats Should Be Watching the States

WASHINGTON – Following the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s sweeping wins in 2022 and 2023, Democracy Docket published an op-ed from DLCC President Heather Williams on Democrats’ path to success in 2024. State legislatures are the level of the ballot that has the greatest impact on people’s day-to-day lives, and fundamental freedoms and democracy itself are at stake in 2024. There are critical opportunities for Democratic wins in the states next year – the DLCC is laser-focused on harnessing recent momentum and turning that energy into wins for Democrats across battleground states.

From DLCC President Heather Williams on Democracy Docket:

“For over a decade, I’ve helped lead Democrats’ national strategy to win state legislatures, and without fail, the fall before a presidential election year always comes with the same question: How do you and your candidates feel about the president’s approval ratings?

This year, those questions have been particularly pointed, suggesting Democrats’ chances in 2024 look bleak and there’s little hope for us to reverse those odds. My honest answer, especially this year, is that these questions couldn’t be further from reality. 

Polls for an election a year away drive chatter in some Washington, D.C. circles, but if you get outside of Washington and away from the media’s obsession with Donald Trump and the horse race for the White House, you’ll find Democrats are actually in a position of strength across the country. 

At the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), we’re seeing encouraging signs after two consecutive years of Democrats’ sweeping wins in November elections, and an impressive trend of overperformance in special elections throughout 2023. 

Just this month, the DLCC won majorities in both legislative chambers in Virginia, protecting reproductive rights for millions and ensuring voting rights and our democracy will continue to function — giving Democrats full legislative control in a key political battleground. After Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) funneled millions of dollars into these races and cast this election as a referendum on the GOP and its proposed abortion ban, voters showed that MAGA extremism is unwelcome in Virginia, echoing the results we’ve seen in special elections across the country all year long.

Democrats also protected a key governing trifecta in New Jersey, not just preserving the majority in both chambers, but also gaining at least six seats. The millions that Republicans spent to break our majorities were no match for voters who soundly rejected MAGA extremism and enthusiastically backed Democratic leadership.

And in Pennsylvania, the DLCC invested an historic six-figures into the election for Democrat Daniel McCaffery, who secured a critical state Supreme Court seat. This seat is crucial to ensure that Pennsylvania certifies the results of the 2024 presidential election, regardless of the outcome. Earlier in the year, we won five special elections in the state, defending our one-seat majority in the state House every time. 

Lastly, Democrats scored an important victory in Ohio, where voters approved a ballot measure to protect abortion access. This landmark vote was a strong rebuke of Republicans’ extreme priorities and reinforces what the DLCC has long known: protecting fundamental freedoms is a winning issue.

Midterms are historically tough for the party in power, but in 2022 we made history — securing the best state legislative results for the president’s party in power since before 1934, protecting every state legislative majority and flipping four chambers from red to blue. In 2023, we over-performed in special elections by an average of seven points. 

When Democrats win power in the states, we deliver. 

These victories represent a promising trend. When we focus on the data points that matter — actual election results, instead of polling — Democrats are in a strong position in 2024. At the ballot level closest to the people, voters are recognizing and choosing Democrats’ vision for the future over the increasingly extreme politics of the Republican Party. 

The biggest risk I see now for Democrats is our tendency to focus attention and resources on the top of the ticket. If we do this without considering the bigger picture this cycle, we will miss a rare opportunity to shift the balance of power in this country — one that is playing out in the states. 

For the last two decades, Republicans have been laser-focused and unfortunately wildly successful in seizing power in state legislatures. Following elections in 2010 and 2014, they built red majorities across the country and locked themselves into power with redistricting.

The consequences of this takeover still play an oversized role in driving the direction of this country. 

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, it wasn’t just the conservative justices who were responsible — it was the Republican-controlled legislatures across the country who put the Court’s opinion into action, writing and passing the state laws that stripped rights away from millions of Americans. 

State legislatures enact the policies that have the most direct impact on people’s day-to-day lives. While the districts we work in are small, the implications of a single seat can be huge. Take the Michigan Senate and Minnesota Senate, two chambers where we won single-seat majorities in 2022: Soon after, the new Democratic majorities swiftly protected abortion, expanded voting rights, passed legislation to benefit workers and took action to protect our kids from gun violence and hunger. When Democrats win power in the states, we deliver. 

It’s clear what Democrats need to do for the 2023-24 cycle. We’ve made significant progress over the last decade, putting Democrats back in control of 41 chambers nationwide — many of them in states we would expect to be solidly blue on a presidential map. We now have momentum to push into battleground states, and our target map outlines our strategy to make gains and solidify power in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These fights will be our toughest yet, but we’re laser-focused. 

Our biggest challenge isn’t the president’s approval ratings — it’s the lack of attention and resources that Democrats at our level of the ballot need to be competitive. Democrats absolutely need to win the White House in 2024 and win majorities in Congress. But our party cannot be fully successful if we do not also make state legislatures a core part of our collective strategy. 

In fact, voting laws passed by state legislatures can impact who can vote and what ballots are counted in 2024. Right now, the ballot level furthest from Washington and closest to the voters is where we’ve had a winning strategy and where we have the best opportunities to change the direction of the country with smart investments. 2024 can be the year of the states if we stay focused and seize the opportunity. We can’t afford to neglect the states — fundamental freedoms and our entire democracy are hanging in the balance.”

In November 2024, forty-four states will have legislative elections on the ballot and there will be hundreds of competitive races across the country. The DLCC has a bold strategy to achieve Democratic power in states, outlined on our Path to the Majority map. As we head into the year of the states, the DLCC is ready to harness our momentum and build on our success. The DLCC will aggressively defend our new majorities and mount competitive challenges in vulnerable GOP chambers that we have an opportunity to take back. We’ve been in the trenches, we’re setting the agenda, and we’re ready to capitalize on every opportunity.

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