Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivers his third annual State of the State address to a joint session of the state Legislature in the Capitol, on Jan. 16, 2013.
Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP

Democrats launch new super PAC to combat GOP gerrymanders


Looking to loosen the GOP’s stranglehold on redistricting, Democrats are launching a new super PAC devoted flipping key state legislatures ahead of the next round after the 2020 elections.

Heading up the Advantage 2020 super PAC will be Mark Schauer, a former Michigan state senate leader and congressman who ran unsuccessfully against Republican Governor Rick Snyder in 2014.

Speaking to msnbc at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Schauer said the super PAC would give them the ability “to focus long term” on GOP majorities in states that may take several cycles to overcome.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee announced their 2020 redistricting plan last year and pledged to raise $70 million to back it up over that span. According to DLCC executive director Michael Sargeant, their fundraising goals remain “in the same ballpark.” 

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At the top of the PAC’s likely target list are large swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, and Schauer’s own Michigan, where small tweaks to maps can dramatically alter party control. Republicans ran the show in all six after the 2010 wave and reaped the benefits. In Michigan, they won nine House seats to five for Democrats in the 2012, the first new year of the maps – even as President Obama won the state by 9.5 points.

According to Sargeant, the new super PAC will do “everything from helping fund campaigns to legislative efforts to providing data to figuring out and extending best practices and strategies to help win elections.”

While state legislature races rarely draw much attention nationally compared to House and Senate contests, they’re an absolutely critical front in politics and policy alike. Democrats are still clawing their way out of the wreckage of the 2010 Republican revolution, when the GOP – backed by the well-funded Republican State Leadership Committee – dominated state races in the crucial census year, handing them control over district lines for state legislators and House members alike in critical states. In addition to giving the GOP a near impregnable lock on Congress and entrenched majorities in otherwise purple sates, Republican lawmakers and governors have led a conservative revolution in policymaking in their states. 

“Attacks on women’s health, collective bargaining and workers rights, immigrant and minority groups, and the middle class in general – it’s been a long list.”
Mark Schauer
“Attacks on women’s health, collective bargaining and workers rights, immigrant and minority groups, and the middle class in general – it’s been a long list,” Schauer said. “I was on the front lines of the Right to Work protests [in Michigan] and got pepper sprayed in the process.” 

Republicans lost some of their majorities in 2012, but roared back in 2014 and now control some 68 out of 99 chambers (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature). It’s the most majorities the Republican Party has held – ever. 

Schauer warned that the damage to Democratic causes may only be beginning if they didn’t make progress. A number of state legislatures, including Michigan, have flirted with bills that would break up their electoral votes along gerrymandered Congressional lines – effectively sacrificing their coveted swing state status to smooth the way for a Republican presidential candidate. While backed by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, these attempts have thus far failed to gain momentum. 

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Democrats can expect a strong Republican response, however. Already the conservative donor network led by David and Charles Koch has pledged to spend $889 million in the next election cycle alone and they’ve shown a particular interest in influencing state races and policymaking. Just this year, Koch-backed groups launched an all-out blitz against wavering Republican legislators in Tennessee that successfully killed Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s attempt to expand Medicaid through Obamacare. 

“The right and the Koch bros figured out the states are laboratories of innovation,” Schauer said. “And it’s innovation that usually hurt people.” 

Money can only go so far for either side, however, and the principle advantage for Democrats in their 2020 efforts may simply be timing. Democrats have turned in strong performances in the last two presidential elections and disastrous ones in the midterms, where the electorate has skewed, older, whiter, and more conservative. Two of the next three cycles before redistricting, including the ultimate 2020 race, will take place in presidential years. Both sides hope to influence the outcomes at the margins, but the national environment will be critical to whether they succeed.