The stakes were particularly high for the 2020 elections, and not just for the presidency. At the state-level, some of the most closely watched races were Democratic efforts to flip swing state legislatures blue and take control of the upcoming redistricting process.
Simply put, redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundary lines of congressional and state districts to more accurately represent the population. It occurs once every ten years after the census, and impacts political boundaries and power for the next decade. These maps are drawn in the state legislatures, heightening the focus on those state-level races.
Democrats launched what they described as an “unprecedented effort” to flip key state legislatures. A number of organizations, including, among others, Forward Majority Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Flippable, made it their focus to flip Republican-controlled legislatures to the Democratic column. A major player in that pool of organizations was former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC).
The NDRC targeted races in 13 states, including seven of the nine states covered by Transparency USA: Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Money poured into the campaign accounts of state-level candidates and PACs from across the country to support key efforts to flip the targeted chambers.
Depending on the outcome of the 2020 census and population growth, a handful of these states stand to add seats to their current Congressional count, which made the stakes even higher. In spite of the well-funded attempt to capitalize on the momentum from 2018, the effort to flip key state legislatures was unsuccessful.
In Florida, the NDRC was targeting state House and Senate races in hopes of flipping the state Legislature from Republican control to Democrat control. In the Florida House, however, Republicans went from holding 73 of the 120 seats to holding 78. And in the state Senate, Florida Republicans also gained another seat, holding 24 of the 40 seats.
Since the Minnesota State House flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 election, the NDRC was only focused on races in the Senate. All 67 Senate seats were up for election, with Democrats holding 33 after the 2016 election. In the November 2020 election, Democrats ended up losing two of those seats to third-party candidates, while Republicans continued to hold 34.
And, though the NDRC wasn’t focused on the State House, the Democrats’ majority there fell from 75-59 to 70-64.
In North Carolina, the NDRC says they were able to help “break supermajorities in both the state Senate and the state House.” North Carolina’s district maps have sparked litigation and controversy over the years, being deemed unconstitutional at one point. In pursuit of Democratic control over the redistricting process in North Carolina, the NDRC targeted both chambers of the state legislature.
Leading up to the November election Democrats were down eight seats in the 50-seat state Senate, and 10 seats in the 120-seat state House. With final results from the 2020 election in, Republicans gained four more seats in the state House, bringing their majority hold to 69-51. In the state Senate, Democrats gained one seat.
According to the NDRC’s website, they “supported a citizen-led, bipartisan ballot initiative to reform the redistricting process for Ohio‘s congressional districts” in 2018.
The NDRC did not focus on the Ohio State Senate, in which Republican held 24 of the 33 seats. In the November 2020 elections, Republicans gained one more seat, bringing their majority hold to 25-8. They did, however, continue their efforts from 2018 in the Ohio State House where Republicans held 61 seats to the Democrats 38 in advance of the election. Despite the NDRC’s efforts, Democrats lost three of those seats to Republicans.
Of Pennsylvania, the NDRC wrote that “in 2018, we helped re-elect Governor Tom Wolf and flip 11 seats in the state House. We also helped Democrats break the Republican supermajority in the state Senate by flipping five seats.”
In 2020, the NDRC continued their efforts focusing on both chambers of the state Legislature. In advance of the election, Republicans held 29 of the 50 seats in the state Senate, and held the same numbers through the election. Of the 203 seats in the state House, Republicans went from holding 110 leading up to November 2020, to 111.
In what’s been historically considered a reliably-red state, the NDRC set their sights on the Texas State House, where in 2018 they “helped Democrats flip two seats in the state Senate and 12 seats in the state House,” according to their website.
Leading up to the 2020 election, Republicans held 83 of the 150 seats in the Texas House, and maintained the same numbers after votes were counted. In the state Senate, Republicans lost one seat in 2020, but maintained their majority.
The NDRC claims Wisconsin is “one of the most severely gerrymandered states in the country” and targeted both the Wisconsin State Senate and State Assembly.
Leading up to the 2020 election, Republicans controlled 63 of the Wisconsin Assembly’s 99 seats, and 18 of the 33 seats in the state Senate. With votes tabulated, Wisconsin Republicans lost two seats, but maintained control of the state Assembly. They gained two additional state Senate seats in 2020.
While Democrats enjoyed success on the federal level during the 2020 elections — maintaining their majority in the U.S. House and flipping the U.S. Senate — their efforts failed in their targeted state-level races. Of the states covered by Transparency USA, efforts by the NDRC and other Democratic PACs managed to flip a handful of seats, but did not flip a single state chamber. Republicans successfully held their majorities, even making gains in some chambers.
Momentum, a national platform, and deep pockets all play important roles when it comes to influencing political change. But as demonstrated by the 2020 outcomes in these targeted state legislatures, those assets mean nothing if they don’t ultimately turn out votes.
Want more from these election results? You can see who supported the Democrats and Republicans in these races, along with how those candidates spent the money in their campaign efforts on Transparency USA. Start by clicking “View Races” on any state page.