With Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continuing to falter, Republican concern for down-ballot races are growing, while Democrats are optimistic that a resounding win for Hillary Clinton will translate into gains in state legislatures nationwide. In his recent and unprecedented endorsement of 150 statehouse Democrats, President Obama was motivated in part by a “deepening frustration at conservative legislation” passed by Republican legislators, including North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2, hundreds of restrictive abortion laws across the country, and efforts to impose strict voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority voters. Additionally, the GOP wave in 2010 allowed the party to redraw maps benefiting Republican candidates, something President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder will focus on correcting before the next round of redistricting in 2021. As for 2016, DLCC Executive Director Jessica Post noted the significance of the president’s endorsements: “We are thrilled that President Obama is endorsing our candidates in some of the most competitive races across the country. His endorsements highlight how crucial state legislative elections are to building on the progress the President has achieved and to continue to move our nation forward.”
During the final presidential debate, the audience laughed when Republican nominee Donald Trump claimed, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” While Trump’s sexist comments and casual advocacy of sexual assault have disgusted voters and politicians from both parties and eviscerated any hope of Trump winning over women voters, the Donald may have done one thing right by women this election – help Democratic women win “big league.” Democratic women candidates are poised to have “their best year ever,” achieving record gains up and down the ballot this November. With the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman president of the United States becoming increasingly likely, Democratic women are also set to make gains in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as in state legislatures nationwide. Overall, Democrats have over 1,700 women running for state legislative seats. DLCC National Communications Director Carolyn Fiddler commented on this historic figure, stating, “The presence of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket encouraged many [women] to step forward, and Donald Trump’s horrifying rhetoric and history toward women reminds all of us why electing women to positions of power is so important.”
In an unprecedented level of engagement, President Barack Obama is working to give down-ballot Democrats an extra boost as the party fights to flip state legislatures across the country. In Nevada, President Obama has recorded robo-calls on behalf of state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse and state Senate candidate Nicole Cannizzaro, and he has issued endorsements for Democratic Assembly candidates Daniele Monroe-Moreno, William McCurdy II, Jason Frierson, Steve Yeager, Chris Brooks, Ozzie Fumo, Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, Justin Watkins and Sandra Jauregui. Currently, Republicans control both chambers of the Nevada Legislature, but Democrats are poised to make gains this November as down-ballot Republicans struggle to avoid blowback from their party’s presidential nominee and overcome Democrats’ growing voter registration advantage. Since presidential election cycles historically producing increased Democratic turnout, the 2016 election cycle could hand one or both legislative chambers to Democrats. With post-2020 redistricting on the minds of both parties, the battle for the Nevada Legislature will be one to watch.
In Colorado, the battle for legislative control is heating up as Democrats work to expand their majority in the state House and fight to flip the state Senate. Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority in the upper chamber, and DLCC Essential Races candidate Rachel Zenzinger’s rematch against GOP Sen. Laura Woods in SD-19 could be the race that will decide partisan control. With a Democratic governor and majorities in both chambers, Democrats could work to move the state forward on issues like criminal justice reform, conservation, healthcare, and education. However, if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they are likely to try again to repeal a package of gun safety laws passed in 2013. With Donald Trump’s presidential campaign hindering down-ballot Republican candidates, Republican-aligned groups are scrambling to prevent a Democratic takeover; “gray money” spending has been prevalent this cycle, with groups sending out anonymous negative fliers and proliferating false attacks against Democratic candidates. DLCC has named state Senate candidate Rachel Zenzinger (SD-19) and state House candidates Jeff Bridges (HD-03) and Dafna Michaelson Jenet (HD-30) to its list of 2016 Essential Races.
In Iowa, the anti-LGBT hate group The Family Research Council has partnered with The Family Leader, a local conservative organization, to funnel campaign donations to Republican state legislative candidates. Financial reports from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board show The Family Leader PAC has donated thousands of dollars to GOP candidates, most likely in an effort to promote discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation in the coming legislative session. The Family Leader group describes itself as being “in association with the Family Research Council” and touts coordination between the two right-wing groups. This past session, The Family Leader openly opposed banning conversion therapy on LGBT minors, and president and CEO, Bob Vander Plaats has made numerous hateful remarks against the LGBT community, calling gay people a “public health risk” akin to smoking; claiming marriage equality is unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision is similar to the court’s Dred Scott decision; and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s ban on “homosexual propaganda.” Since 2015, The Family Leader PAC has contributed over $5,000 to Republican candidates, including Majority Leader Chris Hagenow (HD-43), state Rep. Larry Sheets (HD-80), and state Senate candidate Waylon Brown (SD-26). Democrats are looking to hold the state Senate and possibly flip the state House this November. DLCC has named Democratic state Sen. Chris Brase, Democratic state Senate candidate Jan Heikes, and Democratic state House candidate Pat Ritter to its list of 2016 Essential Races.