US Elections 2020

Democrats spent millions in failed bid to wrest regional power from Republicans

Capitol Hill, the seat of power.
Capitol Hill, the seat of power. ©

Despite Joe Biden's widening lead over Donald Trump, US Democrats spent $50 million trying to win control of state legislatures in these elections, but the effort mostly failed. 


Regional losses mean that 29 states have Republican-controlled legislatures, Therefore, Democrats will not have any say in how Congressional districts are drawn when the once-a-decade process kicks off in 2021.

That will make it more difficult for voters in more liberal areas of those states to elect their party's candidates to both the House of Representatives and state parliaments for another 10 years.

The Democrats' stagnation at the state level came despite massive turnout that flipped at least two states' choices for president from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

Eight target states

Democrats had targeted eight statehouses across the country. But with the possible exception of Arizona, where ballots were still being counted, they failed to make inroads.

In Georgia, where a razor-thin margin separated Biden and Trump, Democrats were poised to pick up a couple of seats but not enough to gain a majority. In North Carolina, Democrats lost a few seats and Republicans held on to their majority.

Dave Abrams, who helped manage the Republicans' state-level efforts, said the mistake Democrats made was having candidates run on national issues, including healthcare, the coronavirus and President Trump.

"The reality is that people vote on local issues, especially at the state level," said Abrams, who is deputy executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

The 2020 elections are unlikely to alter the parties' representational balance in US state houses, where Republicans began with 52 percent of 7,383 state legislative seats.

District boundaries favour Republicans

A major reason why the Democrats have struggled to make inroads is partisan gerrymandering that has cemented Republican majorities in states including Texas and Georgia. Here, demographic changes appear to favour Democrats, but districts are drawn to favour Republicans, according to Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

He cited Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin as states where most districts are drawn so favourably to Republicans it would take a particularly large change in local sentiment or demographics to elect Democrats.

Jessica Post, who headed the Democrats' state-level coordinating efforts, said an influx of Trump loyalists at the polls and Republican-drawn district maps in many states has made it difficult for the party to gain ground.

"They were really drawn with strategic data to make sure that we could not flip these state legislative chambers," said Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC).

While the post-election data is still incomplete, Post also suspects the high turnout sparked by the presidential election brought in a wave of "Trump-only Republicans" whose party-line votes helped Republicans near the bottom of the ballots.

In addition to turnout and favorable district boundaries, many local representatives were re-elected because of the very nature of local politics. Voters often like and keep their representatives even when they vote for someone of a different party at the presidential level, said political scientist Charles Bullock, a professor at the University of Georgia.

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