Forward Majority is an organization dedicated to winning elections on the state level. With the United States Congress separated on such fierce partisan lines, legislation of serious consequence on everything from women’s rights to immigration is being decided on the state level. Democrats need a dedicated organization to implement strategy and raise funds for state elections.
One of the most pressing reasons for a full-court press by Democrats in state elections is the power they wield in redrawing congressional districts, otherwise known as gerrymandering. Consider the recent example of North Carolina’s legal woes. In the past year, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the state had improperly drawn districts with higher black populations, thereby diminishing the influence of those populations in the state elections. This isn’t a revelation, but a systemic tactic used by Republican’s to undercut the influence of minority communities. President Trump frequently refers to, as he sees it, a “beautiful red” map, but the truth is that red is the result of a subversion of the truth.
The drubbing taken by the Democrats this past November was only the latest in a series of political losses starting under President Obama. Since then, Democrats have lost about 870 seats on the federal and state levels. Currently, there are 52 Republicans in the Senate and 240 in the House of Representatives, but nowhere is the pain felt more acutely than on the local level, where Republicans hold 33 governorships and “67 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the nation.” The political power of the Democratic Party hasn’t looked this dire since the Civil War.
The arithmetic looks even bleaker considering the financial investment each party makes in state races. Republicans outspent Democrats in state races by nearly 3-to-1. $107 million dollars compared to just $38 million by Democrats. And, not surprisingly, when you spend more than your opponent, you can expect to win.
Perhaps most depressing of all is just how far behind Democrats are in creating their own political infrastructure capable of winning on the state level. At the dawn of Jimmy Carter era, when Democrats decisively won both chambers of Congress and numerous state legislatures, conservatives created two long-lasting and successful organizations – The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. It was the latter of these two organizations that would lay the groundwork for the current Republican domination. As covered by Alexander Hertel-Fernandez in “How the Right Trounced Liberals in the States,” the history of ALEC from small beginnings to major player demonstrates how over decades, Republicans were able to build the necessary in-roads with business communities to enact major legislation at the state level, while liberal groups have not committed to the same needed infrastructure.
In short, liberals are outgunned, outmanned, and outspent.
Democrats have seen success on a national level. President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 proved the electoral viability of progressive ideas, but without powerful organizations dedicated to working with state legislatures, those ideas will die in a partisan Congress. Forward Majority hopes to change that with a comprehensive strategy including the conventional – TV ads, phone banks, canvassing – and modern techniques including data analytics. However, if Alexander Hertel-Fernandez’s words are to be heeded, Forward Majority will have to capitalize on committed grassroots organizations. What conservative groups like ALEC do so well is maintain a stable stream of financing. Too often, liberal groups rely on wealthy donors on visible and laudable endeavors. While admirable, these efforts don’t often lead to the type of sustained donations that lead to healthy war chests.
Forward Majority is asking for what every organization is asking for: money. But what they can do with it might be worth the investment. The margins for real change are within reach. “Winning just seven seats would return four state chambers to Democratic control.” Their ambition goes higher, though.
2020 remains the goal. The party that controls the state legislatures will control the redistricting process, and that in turn, will determine the reshaping of congressional districts.
President Trump has often been compared to Richard Nixon. Between the lies and potential for impeachment, it isn’t hard to see why. Yet maybe the more apt comparison is to Jimmy Carter. Democrats won the White House, both chambers of Congress, and the majority of state legislatures, while Republicans were at their lowest ebb since 1938. But the Democrats’ enormous electoral win was a mask for how hollow and fragile their victory truly was. President Carter, an outsider candidate, was at the head of a wildly divergent coalition of Democrats. Though he won the presidency, he did so by humble margins, much like our current President. Unable to produce any major legislation despite controlling Congress, also like our current President, Carter’s anemic administration could not win re-election.
Carter and Trump are comparable so far, but in order for Trump to meet the same political fate as America’s most famous peanut farmer, state assemblies need to flip. Minority voters are being silenced, urban voices are being diminished, and the stop-gap solution to the dwindling voice of Democrats and liberals are victories on the state level.
The road is steep, but if Forward Majority is able to narrow the financial gap and President Trump’s poll numbers hurt Republicans in the midterms, Democrats might find success in an arena they have often failed in.