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Jun 21, 2024, 12:45pm EDT
politicsNorth America

Dobbs helped Democrats score big statehouse wins in 2022. Can they keep it up in 2024?

People protest after Arizona's Supreme Court revived a law dating back to 1864 that bans abortion in virtually all instances, in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 14, 2024.
Rebecca Noble/REUTERS
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The News

Two years ago, when Democrats dreaded what was coming in the midterms, they got a happy surprise: Gains in key state legislatures, including new majorities in Michigan and Minnesota. This week, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee announced a new $10 million investment in state races, on top of $50 million already committed by them and tens of millions more by outside groups. Heather Williams, the DLCC’s president talked with Americana about “the summer of states” and their expanding map.

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Q&A

Americana: So, where are Democrats going to compete this year?

Heather Williams: There’s a lot of overlap with the presidential battleground. So, our key focus will be on returning those majorities and trifectas that we built in 2022 — that’s Minnesota, Michigan, the House in Pennsylvania. Next, it’s creating new majorities in places like Arizona and New Hampshire. And then it’s building power for the future, starting in states with Democratic governors where the party is either in a super-minority or on the cusp of being there, making sure that we’re protecting those governors’ veto power.

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Americana: And what’s the theory behind how you do that?

Heather Williams: The stakes have been incredibly high in the states, and I think Dobbs put a fine point on that. Regardless of who’s in the White House, the Republican agenda is going to run through the states, and our candidates are having really dynamic conversations about abortion and about reproductive freedoms and rights and health care. We’re harnessing that momentum and building upon our successes, so that we can win in November.

Americana: What’s the relationship between Biden’s approval rating and the ability of Democrats to win these races? Obviously, Democrats made a lot of gains in 2022, but he wasn’t on the ballot.

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Heather Williams: I will start by saying: He is the leader of our party, and he is our president. That is inescapable. But in so many ways, the Biden agenda is an important storyline in these legislative races. You tell the story of the infrastructure bill and how it impacts communities and the increased access to things like broadband and safe water and bridges that help connect communities or lessen traffic. We have candidates in every House district in Michigan, and they go door to door talking to voters about what they’d do in Lansing. But they also get to talk about the progress made in the Biden agenda. There’s going to be some incredible storytelling up and down the ballot.

Americana: Is there a pattern from across the country of what is winnable? Are we mostly talking about suburbs?

Heather Williams: We’re continuing to see real progress being made in suburban districts, without question. But in order to win a legislative majority, in any state, we need Democrats in urban areas; we need candidates who represent the suburbs and exurbs; we need people who can compete in rural areas. This is why having the right candidates all across the state matters so much. You put all of those districts in play, you put really smart storytellers out into the world, you talk to voters and you sell our story. We’re not giving up on anywhere.

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Americana: Before we talked, I was listening to Florida Democrats, about how they found people to run in every district. In Wisconsin, Democrats did the same thing. Is that specific to those states, or has the DLCC been working on that project?

Heather Williams: Honestly, our role as the party committee is to engage with these programs all the time. Our core focus will always be in these battleground chambers, but we’ve got a team working everywhere, on everything from candidate recruitment to making sure they’ve got the data and tools and resources necessary to be successful in really tough places.

Americana: And when third-party groups announce their own investments, how does that affect your map?

Heather Williams: We’re in a really good position — we’re the anchor in this space. The party committee looks at where the opportunities are and sets the targets. It is true, right, that there has been a concerted effort to increase the amount of resources and attention at this level of the ballot. But it still pales in comparison to what is being spent on statewide and federal races. Anything that brightens the spotlight, that’s welcome.

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