Republicans made huge gains on the state level in the mid-to-late 1990s, as very active conservatives, focusing on issues like taxes and abortion, out-organized Democrats who had less enthusiasm about fighting for their own issues at the state level. “They’ve done a great job of having this nationalized message,” Davies says. But over time, budget-pressed states have begun showing the results of neglect in different ways — from crumbling infrastructure to reduced services — and it’s been Democrats who’ve been offering solutions. “This was the first year that nationalized message didn’t work (for Republicans), and they found they really didn’t have anything else.”
This is not just a reflection of voter sentiment; the shift of power on the state and local level will also shape national politics in the year to come. State legislatures can set the public agenda, and governors have enormous influence on how a state votes, particularly in presidential elections. Heading into the 2008 campaign, 10 of the 14 “battleground states” will have Democratic governors.
Perhaps more important, Democrats can now block Republican attempts to gerrymander congressional districts in their favor. This power will become critical after the 2010 census, when changes in each state’s number representatives will require redistricting. But it’s also an immediate concern, since the Supreme Court ruled that states can redistrict any time, on their own whim.
In 2000, Republicans were way better prepared and organized for the multi-front, complex battles over redistricting — and seriously outmaneuvered the Democrats. Then, the Democrats were caught napping when Republicans in Texas, and then elsewhere, moved for redistricting in mid decade, something never tried before.
But now, the DLCC, civil-service-workers union AFSCME, and the NCCEC have created a redistricting nerve center, to anticipate and plan for every circumstance well before the 2010 census. If the Democrats can hold on to, or expand, their gains in state offices, redistricting might actually prove a boon to them this time around.
3) There aren’t enough married, middle-aged white men
FIGHT CLUB: Expect hard-right groups such as Club for Growth to keep beating up on moderate Republicans like Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee, who went down to defeat in 2006.
Exit polls from recent elections show that Democrats are the preferred candidates among African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, working women, low-income households, middle-income households, young adults, singles . . . just about everybody except married white men and their stay-at-home wives.
Demographics are strongly on the Democrats’ side. According to one study, using racial and ethnic voting patterns from the 2004 presidential election and projected population growth, Democrats will net a gain of 3.4 million votes nationally by 2020. Four states that voted for Bush would be flipped to the Democrats, simply by demographic fate.
Those figures will actually be much higher if a) immigration reform speeds the citizenship process for current noncitizen residents, and b) Hispanics continue to vote the way they did in 2006.
In 2004, 44 percent of Latinos voted Republican in US House races. This year, after the right’s relentless demonizing of the brown-skinned, that number plummeted to 29 percent.
And in a closely watched runoff election on the southern Texas border this month, congressional incumbent Henry Bonilla was beaten in a stunning upset, in large part because he wanted to build a wall on the district’s border with Mexico.