The story of Karl Rove and Project REDMAP is the stuff of political legend.
Rove, former President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, engineered a strategy to quietly dump millions into the 2010 state legislative elections, catching Democrats off guard and empowering Republicans to use hyper-precise data to draw congressional and legislative maps to benefit their candidates over the next decade. The impacts of gerrymandered redistricting were severe and lasting.
The Republican victory lap over the 2020 elections — in which an unexpected surge in support for President Donald Trump repelled Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate, and helped Republicans pick up at least six seats in the U.S. House and dozens of state legislative seats — has distracted from a fundamental truth: Democrats are winning the fight for fair maps.
There’s no doubt that down-ballot Democrats generally fared poorly in 2020, but in the context of redistricting, the impact of 2020 doesn’t erase Democratic progress made over the last decade.
Enough wins to influence redistricting
Democrats will have profoundly greater influence over redistricting heading into this decade than we did the last, and voters in many states will be drawn into fair, non-gerrymandered districts for the first time in a generation.
In Michigan this year, Democrats were running on maps that were thrown out by a federal court for being clearly drawn to favor Republicans. An independent redistricting commission will put fair maps in place for 2022, giving Democrats their first real chance at winning the state’s House and Senate in a decade.
We will also have new maps in emerging battlegrounds all over the country. Two of the most populous states in the country — California and New York — have independent redistricting commissions and Democrats control state government. There’s an independent commission in Democratically controlled Colorado and Washington, which are growing in population and could have additional congressional seats after the census.
In states where we don’t hold legislative majorities, Democrats have broken Republican control by flipping governorships — including in Kansas and Kentucky. In Wisconsin, Democrats regularly win the popular vote without coming close to winning the legislature. But Republicans failed to win a legislative supermajority this month on their gerrymandered map. That and a Democratic governor will prevent a partisan map from being rammed through again.
The same goes for Pennsylvania, where Democrats’ success in breaking the gerrymandered Republican supermajority two years ago will force a negotiation with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and in Louisiana, where legislative Republicans will have to work with Gov. John Bel Edwards after falling short of a state House supermajority last year.
Then there’s progress in the courts. In Ohio, Democrats flipped a Supreme Court seat from red to blue, and the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court is widely known to be a bipartisan voice.
TV ads don't win close elections
No, we didn’t flip every chamber we’d hoped this year, but Democrats are far better prepared to fight for fair maps this year — both because of electoral consequences and because we know what’s coming. As a result, tens of millions fewer Americans, many of them people of color, will be disenfranchised by rigged maps engineered to marginalize their votes.
Overcoming and then changing a system that was literally designed to prevent Democrats from succeeding has been difficult — particularly so with the most popular Republican in a generation on the top of the ticket — but that work must continue.
Abrams and Holder: Voting by people of color is up, but so are barriers built by Republicans
If the 2020 election was proof of anything, it’s that a blank check for final-month television ads is not enough for Democrats to win close elections. Last-minute pledges from shiny super PACs are certainly not how we’ll flip our next Republican-controlled state legislatures. It takes years of decidedly unglamorous, grinding work building state and local party organizations, and the cultivation and training of inspiring local candidates.
The outcome of 2022’s state legislative elections will be determined more by the investments made in the next six months than those made in the final gasps of the cycle — investments in party infrastructure that can’t be washed away with just one election.
Those types of investments are why Democrats have made the progress we have in the decade since Rove’s REDMAP and they’re the single most important way for us to continue making progress.
Jessica Post is president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaPost
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats are winning the fight for fair House maps despite 2020 losses