Republicans have dominated the state legislative election landscape over the past decade, but after this year’s midterm elections Democrats are on the cusp of making history at that level of the ballot.
Democrats are expected to hold on to their existing majorities in both the Nevada state Assembly and Senate when all votes are counted. If that happens, it would mark the first time since at least 1934 that the party in control of the White House retained all of its state legislative majorities in a midterm election, according to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Democrats have already confirmed that they will retain majorities in Colorado and Maine, where Republicans had targeted both chambers of each state legislature. The DLCC claimed victory in Nevada on Thursday, although the results have not been officially confirmed.
They also flipped at least three chambers — Michigan’s House and Senate and the Minnesota Senate — Tuesday night. A single additional victory in Pennsylvania, where ballots are still being counted in some races, would give them the majority in the state House.
And they may succeed in breaking the GOP’s stranglehold on one or both chambers of the Arizona Legislature, where a single flipped seat in either body would result in a tie.
“This historic feat should humble the GOP in state legislatures — they thought they could attack abortion rights and fundamental freedoms and not face any backlash,” DLCC President Jessica Post said in a statement Thursday, referring to the midterm results. “The American people just proved them wrong.”
The 2022 cycle was expected to be a difficult one for Democrats, given that the party controling the White House typically loses substantial ground at every level of the ballot in the midterms. After failing to flip a single state legislative chamber in the 2020 election, Democrats entered this cycle largely focused on protecting existing majorities from GOP takeover attempts.
But the typical midterm dynamic shifted, thanks to the fall of Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, and the GOP embracing the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe turned legislatures into major battlegrounds over the future of abortion rights, as Republicans raced to codify new restrictions — some of which effectively banned abortion. Backlash to the decision provided a jolt to Democrats’ hopes, especially in states like Michigan, where a new independent redistricting commission also broke a Republican gerrymander and produced fairer maps that fueled optimism about a potential flip.
Republican election denial, meanwhile, put the future of American democracy on the ballot in state legislative campaigns, especially after the Supreme Court agreed to weigh a case in which it could ultimately grant legislatures the power to contest or even overturn future elections.
The midterm results are “nothing short of a political thunderclap and will help safeguard our democracy from Republican extremism,” Vicky Hausman and David Cohen, the co-founders of progressive group Forward Majority, said in a statement.
The DLCC spent $50 million in state legislative races but didn’t receive any funding from the Democratic National Committee, The Daily Beast reported in September. But Post touted the victories as a validation of DLCC efforts over the past decade to invest in state legislative campaign infrastructure across the country, as the organization sought to rebuild from major losses during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Forward Majority, which said it invested $20 million into state legislative races, was one of several outside groups that also spent big during the 2022 cycle to blunt the long-standing advantage that Republicans obtained through both dedicated funding and aggressive gerrymandering practices.
The States Project, another progressive group, poured $60 million into state legislative campaigns over the past two years.
It took an aggressive tack from the beginning, investing heavily in Pennsylvania and other places that seemed like long shots for Democratic success. That strategy, the group’s leaders said during a Thursday press briefing, was driven by concerns about GOP election denial and fears that the Supreme Court might soon bless Republican attempts to seize power over future elections — a ruling that could pave the way for GOP election deniers to undermine results in ways they tried but failed to do in 2020.
“We had a very clear mission to build pro-democracy governing power in the key states that were most likely to prevent the 2024 election from being stolen,” said Adam Pritzker, a States Project co-founder. “That dictated our primary targets.”
The group’s investments helped fund a data-driven approach to state legislative campaigns in key swing districts that could produce majorities. And they allowed candidates like Michigan Democrat Kristen McDonald Rivet, who won a race for the state House on Tuesday, to garner the level of media attention and run the sort of canvassing operations that are more typical of larger, more costly campaigns.
That helped secure a total Democratic victory in Michigan, where those in the party will now hold complete control of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1984. The flip of the Minnesota Senate, meanwhile, completed the Democratic trifecta.
Democrats also prevented Republicans from taking supermajority control of general assemblies in Wisconsin and North Carolina, outcomes that will preserve the veto power of the states’ Democratic governors.
The most shocking result, however, may ultimately come from Pennsylvania, where Democrats entered Tuesday needing to flip 12 state House seats to win a majority. Even The States Project, which said it spent $11 million on Pennsylvania state House races alone, thought that was an unlikely outcome and considered it more plausible that Democrats could make enough gains to put the majority in play in 2024.
Instead, Democrats racked up wins across the state that could now give them the majority for the first time since 2010 if the results in a final race break their way.
“It was a big, big night that dramatically outperformed all of our expectations,” Pritzker said. “When we invest in these races in a real way, and make these chambers the significant priority they are, we can win.”