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This Week in Statehouse Action: Falling Down edition
It’s (almost) officially here!
And don’t give me that fall-starts-after-Labor-Day nonsense. Fall is, has been, and always will be starting on the day of the autumnal equinox, which, this year, is Sept. 23.
You’d think I’d be a little less enthused about about a date that delineates when we start getting less daylight than nighttime, but whatever. With apologies to the parts of the country that don’t get a full four seasons, autumn is a gorgeous, glorious time in the Commonwealth – leaves turning, crisp air, seasonal beverages, all that stuff.
And because I happen to hail from Virginia, that means I’m one of the lucky few who get elections each and every fall (yes, I see you there, New Jersey. Don’t worry, you get a little nod this week, too).
So let’s check in!
So a new round of campaign finance reports have dropped in Virginia, and the news is … mixed, but, like, mostly good for Democrats.
First, it’s important to note the time period we’re talking about.
The most recent round of reports covers the months of July and August – typically kinda slow fundraising months generally, but an incredibly important stretch for candidates trying to fund their GOTV, paid media, and other efforts in the final two months of the election.
Breaking that down a little:
Democratic Senate candidates are also outpacing Republicans in terms of cash on hand: $7.2 million vs. $6.6 million.
Four of the top five fundraising Senate candidates were Democrats, all running in super competitive seats, all considered must-wins by both parties: SDs 31, 24, 16, and 27; candidates Russet Perry, Monty Mason, Schuyler VanValkenburg, and Joel Griffin, respectively.
The only Republican Senate candidate in the top five is also running in SD-31: Juan Pablo Segura.
Democrats have the cash-on-hand edge here, too: $9.9 million vs. $9.3 million.
Again, four of the five top House fundraisers for the period were Democrats: HDs 97, 57, 65, and 58.
The sole House candidate in the top five is also running in HD-97: Karen Greenhalgh.
Sounds pretty good for team blue, yeah?
Well, there’s just one pesky wrinkle.
A $3.8 million wrinkle.
… which is the amount raised in July and August by Glenn Youngkin’s leadership PAC, Spirit of Virginia.
A big chunk of that came from a Florida Man – specifically, Thomas Peterffy, who donated $1 million during that period (he’d already forked over another $1 million back in April).
Youngkin’s will-he-or-won’t-he (run for president, that is) PAC also has a whopping $6.3 million cash on hand, but given that his White House ambitions are moot if his party doesn’t keep the state House and flip the Senate, I’ve no doubt that’ll get spent down pretty dang soon.
The next reporting deadline is Sept. 30, but reports aren’t due until Oct. 16.
And while we’re talking about states with legislative elections this year …
The brilliant chaps over at Daily Kos Elections have put together this handy little spreadsheet with data on open and uncontested legislative seats on the ballot this fall.
The state with the fewest uncontested races: New Jersey!
Virginia is next, with just three R and three D seats uncontested in the Senate, but Republicans left 20 D-held House of Delegates seats without GOP candidates, while Dems left 15 R seats uncontested.
Both Louisiana and Mississippi, however, are sad stories, if you’re a fan of, like, basic democracy.
In Louisiana, a total of 30 Senate seats (out of 39!!) and 88 House seats (out of 105!) are uncontested by one party or the other.
In Mississippi, 44 of 52 Senate seats are uncontested, and 103 out of 122 House seats are uncontested.
Even worse, partisan control of all four of these chambers in these two states has already been decided before a single vote has even been cast.
In both states, Democrats are contesting fewer than half of the seats in either chamber, guaranteeing the GOP full majority control of those legislatures next year.
… though it’s important to note that, because of third-party candidates, Republicans in Mississippi aren’t technically guaranteed those majorities, but in a practical sense, it’s done and dusted.
This week had a couple of fun special elections, and Democrats are pretty pleased about how they went.
HD-21 includes a little bit of Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs, and it’s fairly Democratic (Innamorato won it 64%-35%), so this should have been an easy hold for Dems … and it was!
Powell won the race 65-35, and for the third time this year, Democrats have successfully defended their one-seat majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Even better, this win was a solid Dem overperformance in this district – Biden won it in 2020 61-38.
In New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter won a key House special that puts Republicans’ majority control of this gerrymandered chamber just one seat away from going pfft.
Rafter flipped this swingy seat – Rockingham District 1 – 56-44, bringing the Democrats to 197 seats in the 400-member chamber (Republicans hold 198, two members are independents, and there are currently three vacancies).
The next New Hampshire House special election will be held on Nov. 7 in a safely blue Nashua-area seat, which could tie the chamber.
If these three seats are won by the same party that previously held them, Democrats will have a one-seat majority in the New Hampshire House.
Big picture time:
If you’ve been reading this missive since the beginning of the year, you might be thinking to yourself, Hm, seems like Democrats are doing pretty well in these special elections, yeah?
And you, erudite reader, would be quite correct!
Wins are a big part of the equation, but it’s Democrats’ overperformance (vs. a “seat partisanship” calculation based on recent presidential results in the same districts) that really tells the story here.
Nathaniel Rakich is one of the sharpest political analysts I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with (and I used to run with the DKE crowd, so that’s great company to be in), and he examined the results of all the special elections held since Jan. 1 (both state legislative and congressional) and noticed something neat (or lousy, depending on your perspective – I see you, non-lefty readers, and I’m glad you’re here, even if I’m a little baffled that you endure my particular brand of, um, humor. But I digress).
Anyway, Democrats are overperforming like WHOA.
Yes, special elections are, um, special, in that they’re typically lower-turnout affairs than general election contests.
And sure, Democrats have won 19 contested special elections this year (vs. Republicans’ 11), but that’s not the real story, either – a special in a Dem-leaning seat is probably gonna be won by a Democrat, and a special in an R-leaning seat is likely to be won by a Republican.
It’s the difference in margins by which Democrats are winning a lot of these specials that tells the tale.
In those 30 contested special elections this year, Democrats are overperforming the relative partisanship of those districts by 11 points on average.
Obviously many more special elections will be held between now and Election Day 2024, and that average Democratic overperformance could shrink. Or grow. Or stay about the same.
But this is why it’s very much worth keeping an eye on:
The last time Democrats had a similar average special election overperformance margin – 10.7 points – was in the 2017-2018 election cycle.
And in 2018, Democrats won the national U.S. House popular vote by 8.6 (and flipped the chamber by picking up more than 40 seats, as you likely recall).
Those overperformance margins shrank in the two subsequent cycles, and Democrats’ national House popular vote share did, too – eventually resulting in Republicans winning the House vote by 2.7 in 2022, after a meager Dem overperformance of 0.5 in special elections that cycle.
At the very beginning of the month, I wrote in this space about how Ohio Republicans – having failed in their attempt to raise the threshold for passage of a ballot measure amending the state constitution to an arbitrary 60% – were resorting to other means in their attempt to defeat a pro-reproductive rights constitutional amendment.
Specifically, the GOP-controlled Ohio Ballot Board wanted to change the ballot measure language from what had been approved by Republican Attorney General Dave Yost and signed by over 700,000 Ohioans to something anti-reproductive rights activists might like a little better.
You can read the previously approved language here (page 13) and the altered language for yourself here (page 19), but the biggest change was that every instance of “fetus,” the medically accurate word for a fetus, was replaced with “unborn child,” a medically inaccurate and politically charged term for fetus.
Five original ballot measure petitioners and Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court challenging the altered language.
But after Republicans swept last fall’s Ohio Supreme Court elections, they have a 4-3 majority, so their odds were never very good.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court handed down their ruling on the ballot measure language.
And, while they did clean up one misleading descriptor, a majority of the court’s justices deemed that replacing “fetus” with “unborn child” was “imprecise at worst” and allowed the anti-abortion language to remain on the ballot voters will read in November.
Republicans in Wisconsin have a fever, and the only prescription is MORE IMPEACHMENTS.
Last week in this space, as part of my requisite update on legislative Republicans' ongoing quest to impeach Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz (for once, not much news there!), I mentioned that Republicans in the state Senate also attempted to remove the state’s top election official.
I say “attempted” not because they didn’t have the votes to do it, but because it, like, wasn’t legal.
Basically, GOP leadership in the state used Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) administrator Meagan Wolfe as a convenient scapegoat for Trump’s failure to win the state in 2020. A noun, a verb, and election fraud, or whatever.
Republicans have been trying to remove her ever since, but the WEC itself deadlocked on a vote to renominate her as head of the agency over the summer, which effectively kept her in office as a “holdover.”
Then Senate Republicans held themselves a little dog-and-pony show hearing and declared that they had the authority to remove her, although they probably don’t.
AG Josh Kaul has already filed a lawsuit challenging the Senate’s removal vote, but the election conspiracy theorists in the Wisconsin Senate aren’t content to let that process play out.
So … impeachment!
Five Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly introduced a resolution this week calling for Wolfe’s impeachment.
The 23-page document is riddled with 2020 election conspiracy theories and faults Wolfe for decisions she didn’t even make.
Importantly, though, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has so far been completely silent on the issue of Wolfe’s potential impeachment. If Vos isn’t behind impeaching her, this goes nowhere.
A final note on Wisconsin before I bounce: Citing a county court ruling from July that found that Wisconsin’s 1849 law that’s been widely interpreted as an abortion ban is not, in fact, an abortion ban, Planned Parenthood announced last week that they would restart abortion services in the Badger State.
Legislative Republicans responded, naturally, by introducing a little raft of anti-abortion bills.
One would prevent anyone employed by the state, a state agency, or a local government from not only providing or funding abortion services, but also even speaking about it in a positive way or making referrals (ACLU where you at).
Another would update Wisconsin’s 1949 law to make it clear that it absolutely does apply to abortion and redefine the abortion in a way that excepts medical procedures intended to prevent a pregnant person from dying.
A third would allow taxpayers to claim any fetus with a “heartbeat” as a tax exemption.
And a fourth just straight up gives an anti-abortion group (Choose Life Wisconsin) that funds “crisis pregnancy centers” – which, as we all know, are just propaganda outlets that exist to specifically discourage women from accessing abortion care – $1 million of taxpayer money each year.
Hearings on these bills began this week, and they can all fairly be expected to pass both GOP-controlled legislative chambers.
They will, however, be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
One final note before wrapping:
You may or may not know/have heard of Brian Beutler, an incredibly sharp political writer most recently at Crooked Media (although I met him many, many moons ago when he was at TPM).
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
Here’s hoping your weekend is super great, whether it involves welcoming fall or cursing its arrival. (It’s not for everybody, I get it!)
And take care of yourself.
We need you.