2020 A Very Different Year Than 2010

Interestingly enough, in a National Journal piece on the balance of power in state legislatures that ultimately gets it all more or less right, Emma Roller begins with a dubious premise:

[T]he Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee…is striking out with an ambitious goal to win many of those state legislature seats back over the next five years. Back in August, the DLCC launched Advantage 2020, a super PAC devoted to rebuilding Democratic power at the state level with the goal of eventually holding the crayons in 2021, when states will redraw congressional district lines.

It’s a quixotic mission, given that many Republican legislatures redrew the maps in 2011 specifically to ensure their party’s continued electoral victory. Still, with the right combination of timing, recruiting, outreach, funding, and dumb luck, Democrats might actually be able to recoup some of their losses.

I don’t see that it’s all that “quixotic.” Gerrymandering rarely works for a whole decade, as evidenced by the GOP’s alleged “lock” on the U.S. House after the post-2000 redistricting, which ended in 2006. But whether or not Democrats regain an advantage in 2020, the suggestion that it will take something like an inside straight for Democrats to “recoup some of their losses” is a strange assessment. If only because 2020 is a presidential election year (a factor that Roller does eventually mention), Democratic gains just prior to redistricting are very, very likely, particularly given the over-exposure of Republicans sitting in marginal districts they took in big years like 2010 and 2014.

Roller actually mentions one factor potentially helping Democrats that I hadn’t thought about: the timing of term limits in states being targeted by Democrats:

For the DLCC, there is a silver lining to the swell of victory that Republicans saw at the state level in 2010: term limits. Lawmakers in three of Advantage 2020’s six target states—Florida, Michigan, and Ohio—are term-limited, meaning that many of the seats will be wide open in five years.

It’s helpful not to confuse the number of states or chambers controlled by each party–or the even less meaningful “total number of state legislative seats” totals always trotted out, which are eternally skewed by the variable size of legislatures, such as New Hampshire’s vast House–with the positioning of the parties to control the maps for U.S. House seats. So long as the two parties’ coalitions are anything like they are today, Republicans will likely hold a majority of governorships, legislatures, and state legislative chambers, for the precise reason that there are more “red states” than “blue states.” But although the GOP benefits from a more efficient distribution of voters, along with the gradually diminishing effect of redistricting, plus whatever power incumbency retains, November 3, 2020 probably won’t be a triumphant election night for the titans of 2010 and 2014.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.