Barack Obama says all the voter registration drives and first-time candidates running for office this year are “inspiring” — but that in the existential battle for America he’s been warning about, it’s not enough.
“That’s all vital to protecting this democracy of ours,” Obama says in a new video being released by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee on Wednesday. “So is something else — and that’s rethinking the way we draw our congressional districts.”
The NDRC has zeroed in on a list of state legislature races for November, identifying specific targets in each priority state for the first stage of its attempted gerrymandering revolution ahead of the 2020 census. The goal, aides to the group are telling prospective donors, is to put as many as 29 House seats in 12 states within reach for Democrats.
The NDRC is preparing to do fundraising and organize campaign visits, including by Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is leading the group. The group is convening allies on the ground and orchestrating digital get-out-the-vote efforts through voter contact and turnout. It will also be redirecting some of its own money into existing organizations in the states.
The focus will be on districts with large populations of college-educated voters and minorities, with an emphasis on districts that overlap with key House races. For the House district being vacated by GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick covering Bucks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania, for example, the NDRC is targeting three overlapping state Senate races.
“We have lifted up and done the analysis of competitiveness, and now we can work within that landscape of competitiveness,” said Kelly Ward, the NDRC executive director.
The aim, according to a copy of the donor presentation obtained by POLITICO, is to eliminate duplication of efforts and pour money into turning out younger people and people of color who feel the current system is working against them.
Ward and the others running the effort believe that the new attention to gerrymandering, and the energy that’s helped Democrats flip 44 state legislative seats in special elections since Donald Trump’s election, will help them in November. But they know that Democrats, dreaming of a blue wave, will be inclined to focusing on winning the House and Senate races to take on Trump more directly.
They point out that 55 of the 275 competitive seats they’d need to flip legislative chambers are up for four-year terms in November. In addition, a few state Supreme Court seats could play roles in future legal challenges and governor’s races in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
They’ll be deploying Obama as much as possible.
On a California fundraising swing at the end of June, he met privately in San Francisco with a few major donors, hoping to fatten a bank account that’s already hit $29 million this cycle. Organizing for Action, his affiliated group, has its members educating and activating around redistricting reform.
In the video, the former president makes the pitch directly, saying gerrymandering “moves our debates away from the rational, reasonable middle, where most Americans are, to the extremes. And that makes common-sense policies that most Americans support less likely.”
Miss the chance now, Obama said, and the next 10 years will play out the way the years since 2010 have, when “Republican-controlled legislatures all across the country locked in structural advantages that would eventually determine every future election. Of course, that’s good for special interests who want to protect tax breaks for the most powerful or the gun lobby or environmental polluters, but it’s not good for our children.”
Obama will make state legislature candidates a focus of his endorsements and campaigning starting in the fall, but Holder has already been making the case on the road. On Wednesday, he’ll appear at an event in Florida for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which is focused on state legislature races, and he’ll be in Ohio at the end of July, with a schedule that will continue to pick up as the elections get closer.
Ward argued that the campaign component of the NDRC has taken on added significance since the Supreme Court’s decisions in June not to rule on partisan gerrymandering, and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, which is expected to tilt the court even further away from any inclination toward having the judiciary override gerrymandering.
“It doesn’t take litigation off the table, but it also validates our comprehensive plan,” Ward said.
With a graphic that shows that Democrats won over 50 percent of the votes in House races across the country but fewer than 50 percent of the seats, Obama roots the pitch in the idea of a system rigged by Republicans.“Today, technology lets the party in power precision-draw the map to pack the other party’s supporters into as few districts as possible. It’s why your district might be shaped like a corkscrew,” Obama says. “But it’s also how a party gains more seats, while winning fewer votes. Which isn’t fair.”