Ten years ago, Republicans redrew congressional and state legislative districts overwhelmingly to their advantage, tilting the playing field by making it harder for Democrats to win and hold control of both statehouses and the U.S. House.
They’re poised to do so again next year after the Democrats’ disappointing down-ballot performance in Tuesday’s elections, which saw unprecedented voter turnout for both parties. The GOP appeared to have held on to control of key legislative chambers across the country where the decennial redistricting battles will take place after the 2020 census.
Democrats poured millions of dollars into efforts to flip statehouses in key battleground states like Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. They were also seeking wins in Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin. The party missed nearly all of its top targets.
At stake in the fight is not only the future makeup of Congress, but also the laws enacted at the state level, where much of the policymaking is done. State legislatures also set the rules governing voting and how ballots are counted and cast. GOP officials in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, blocked efforts this year to count ballots before Tuesday’s election to head off false allegations of fraud like those being spread by President Donald Trump and his allies.
While the outcomes of several key down-ballot races have yet to be called, Republicans claimed victory and touted their hold on legislative majorities in Georgia, Florida and Texas. Democrats had big hopes for Texas, in particular, after making gains there in 2018. But they lost big this week, failing to pick up a single congressional or statehouse seat.
“Liberal coastal elites spent every last bit of energy and every dollar they could find ― flooding Texas in an attempt to take the soul of the state,” said Austin Chambers, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Texans let Democrats know they cannot and will not be bought, and we couldn’t be more proud to celebrate these wins.”
Republicans are actually likely to gain two more trifectas ― in Montana and New Hampshire ― under newly elected Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. They also held on to control of the Arizona Legislature despite Fox News and Associated Press projections that Democrat Joe Biden would take the state in the presidential contest.
Democrats pointed to some minor gains on Tuesday that will help them in coming fights at the state level. They blocked a GOP supermajority in the Wisconsin Legislature that could otherwise override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ veto. They also made gains in the Ohio and Michigan state supreme courts.
Still, those wins are far from a consolation prize for disappointed Democrats who had hoped to regain control of both chambers of Congress next year and enact major progressive policies, if they’re able to oust Donald Trump from the presidency.
Christina Polizzi, a spokeswoman for the Democratic State Leadership Committee, attributed the party’s difficulties in flipping statehouses to Trump’s presence on the ballot, something they didn’t have to contend with during the 2018 midterm elections and the 2017 elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
“It’s clear to us so far that in some of our districts in red states is that Trump really overperformed expectations. He did a lot better. He brought Republican voters with him,” Polizzi told HuffPost.
Polizzi argued that Democrats stood a better chance in redistricting fights next year because of their gains at the state level over the past decade, including in Virginia, Maine, New Mexico, Minnesota, New York and Oregon.
“We are much, much, much better positioned going into 2021 than 2011. We know exactly what they’re going to do this year and we’re prepared to stop them,” she added.
Still, Republicans will likely have a huge advantage in drawing maps for congressional districts next year, possibly as many as 4-5 times as many as Democrats, according to Daily Kos. The GOP could once again gerrymander districts in the party’s favor, entrenching minority rule for the next decade.
The picture looks even more daunting for Democrats in the coming years. While they can look forward to a more favorable Senate map in 2022, they still face long-term headwinds in the upper chamber due to the disproportionate power it grants to rural Americans, who are far more likely than their urban counterparts to vote Republican.
In addition to the issue of skewed congressional maps, Democrats are also likely to be playing defense in the House, where they are projected to hold a slim majority after Tuesday’s unexpectedly brutal losses.
The party also can’t look to the courts to save it. A 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority that has already proven hostile to voting reforms, for example, will be more inclined to uphold any GOP-drawn maps that may disadvantage Democrats at the ballot box. It could also block any major policies a Democratic president may try to enact by sidestepping Congress through executive actions.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday urged Democrats not to get too down on themselves, calling a possible Trump loss a “big deal.” He also emphasized the need to win two possible runoffs for Senate seats in Georgia, which could produce an evenly split upper chamber, giving them a tie-breaking advantage if Kamala Harris becomes vice president.