I know the normal condition eight days out from an election is total freak-out anxiety. But travel with me for the next few minutes away from Trumpian demagoguery and gerrymandered congressional districts to a place where, so far at least, things looks pretty promising.
I’m talking about state-level elections. They’re so important. For years, as you probably know, conservative groups have been spending tons more money that their liberal counterparts on state races, and it showed. Republicans control 33 governor’s mansions, 36 state senates, and 31 state lower houses. In key states, the secretaries of states—the people who in about half the states control the rules and machinery of elections, deciding things like how many voting machines they’re going to put in black neighborhoods—are mostly Republican.
And so, the good news: The way things look right now, Democrats could be headed for some pretty big pickups, even maybe in some surprising places. And the important point is that these pickups can make a difference in 2020. Let’s dive in.
Right now, Governing magazine says that 10 governors’ seats currently held by Republicans are up for grabs, while only two seats currently held by Democrats are competitive. Democrats are ahead in several of the 10.
The biggest is Florida, where Democrat Andrew Gillum narrowly but steadily leads Trumpy clown Ron DeSantis. Gillum recently hit a speed bump on this Hamilton tickets thing. This carried the strong smell of an October Surprise hit designed to damage him with white female voters.
Gillum remains a couple points ahead, and if he holds on, remember this: Florida is one of those states where the governor appoints the person who oversees elections. You once knew that, if you think about it—remember Katherine Harris? Sure you do. She was, quite famously, a Jeb appointee. Governor Gillum would put someone in charge of overseeing Florida elections who actually wants all eligible Floridians to be able to vote.
In Ohio, Democrat Richard Cordray narrowly leads Republican Mike DeWine. Ohio has had a Democratic governor for just four of the last 28 years, so this would be a big deal. Governors control tons of jobs and dollars and are owed a jillion favors and can snap their fingers and raise beaucoup de money, so merely having a governor in office when a presidential election rolls around is potentially worth a point or two. Having Democratic governors in Florida and Ohio in 2020 doesn’t guarantee anything, but it sure can’t hurt.
Another biggie: Wisconsin and that weenie Scott Walker. Democrat Tony Evers leads him narrowly. Whatever else happens on election night, there are three or four possible Republican defeats that would constitute good liberal schadenfreude moments. Walker is way high on that list.
Michigan seems poised to change hands from retiring Republican Flint-poisoner Rick Snyder to Gretchen Whitmer, who has what seems to be a five-or-six point lead over her GOP opponent. Another leading gubernatorial pestilence has been Maine’s Paul LePage. He’s retiring, so we won’t have the pleasure of seeing that baboon voted out, but even so, it does look for now (although public polling is light) as if the favorite to succeed him is Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills. If she wins, score one more for Obamacare: The voters of Maine overwhelmingly backed Medicaid expansion, but LePage has blocked it. Mills says she’ll implement it on day one.
Two other states that are important 2020 states where the Democrats have a good shot at flipping control are Iowa (the candidate is Fred Hubbell) and Nevada (Steve Sisolak). The Democrats are also going to pick up Illinois, a big and important state but not a swing state, and possibly even Kansas and Alaska and if things get really weird maybe even Oklahoma (!).
Those are all really fascinating stories. Kansas especially is worth watching, because the Republican there is Chris Kobach, who was too crazy even for Donald Trump on voter fraud and is now being investigated by a grand jury on charges that his office engaged in “destroying, obstructing, or failing to deliver online voter registration.”
Secretaries of State
Totally, absolutely crucial offices. They decide, among other things, how many polling places to put in black neighborhoods. Get the picture?
And I happily report to you that Democrats could take over from Republicans in fully six states in which 1) the secretary of state is in fact the official who runs elections, and 2) it’s a state that will or could really matter in 2020.
Let’s start in Ohio, where outgoing Secretary of State Jon Husted has overseen aggressive voter purges. The Democrat is Kathleen Clyde, and she is described to me as a serious talent. Her GOP opponent doesn’t sound terrible, but it seems impossible that any Republican in the present national climate is going to go out of his way to make sure people of color have the same access to the vote that white people do. Clyde will.
Michigan is another swing state where the Democrat, Jocelyn Benson, seems well-positioned to take over from a term-limited Republican, who pretty obviously went fishing for national wingnut money and attention by accusing Benson of accepting money—back in 2009!—from a group that accepted money from George Soros’ foundation.
In Colorado, Democrat Jena Griswold is taking on GOP incumbent Wayne Williams. She says “our democracy is under attack, whether from Russian cyberattacks on our elections or from our own president himself.” She’s clearly doing something right: She’s outraised him—the incumbent—by nearly three-to-one!
Iowa and Nevada are two other states where the Democrats have a good shot at flipping control. And finally, there’s Georgia. It’s not necessarily a swing state—although it’s not necessarily not one, either, especially if Stacey Abrams wins the governor’s race (plus, Trump beat Clinton by only 5 percent there).
But Georgia is interesting to us because of Abrams’ Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, the current AG, presently trying to throw as many black voters off the rolls as he can so they can’t vote for Abrams and against him. So even if it’s not quite a gettable 2020 state, it would be oh-so-sweet to see Democrat John Barrow, a former congressman, beat Republican Brad Raffensberger.
State legislatures of course will draw new district lines for Congress in 2021-22 after the next census, so the Democrats have two election cycles to invest millions here and try to win control of at least one house in important purple states.
Keep an eye out for these. In the Wisconsin State Senate, Democrats need to pick up three seats for control. In the Florida State Senate, they need six. In the Arizona State Senate, they need four. In the Colorado State Senate, the number is two. In Michigan the GOP’s current margin is 16 but it’s apparently considered not impossible that the Democrats could flip it, and the state house. And in New York, Democrats have to flip just one seat to capture the state Senate, which would give them full control of the state house and force Governor Andrew Cuomo to start actually passing liberal legislation instead of hiding behind the state Senate.
Virtually every one of these races I’ve mentioned is in a state that either will be or could be very important in the effort to beat Donald Trump in 2020 and in the post-census drawing of new congressional district lines. The Kavanaughed Supreme Court is not going to hear any gerrymandering cases or rule in plaintiffs’ favor. And the court is just going to get worse on voting rights.
Democrats and liberals aren't going to win these fights in the courts in the foreseeable future. They have to win them with politics now. If you live in one of these states, go vote, and tell your apathetic friends why they need to care about these races up and down the ballot.