We’ve got so, so many elections coming up in 2024, and dammit, we’re going to cover them all! On this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” co-hosts David Nir and David Beard get the year started with an overview of the battleground for [deep breath] the Senate, the House, governorships, state legislatures, and state supreme courts. Consider this your audio cheat sheet for November’s top races, but don’t worry, we’ll be covering plenty more as the cycle unfolds.
The Davids also discuss the recent string of House GOP retirements—both what they say about the state of the Republican caucus and what they mean for 2024. Then there’s a new effort by activists in Ohio to place a measure on the ballot that would crap down on Republican voter suppression by enacting extensive protections for the right to vote. And finally, we dive into the latest GOP gerrymanders in Georgia, which have pushed two Black Democratic women into running for the same seat.
Transcript lightly edited for clarity.
David Beard: Hello, and welcome. I’m David Beard, Contributing Editor for Daily Kos Elections.
David Nir: I’m David Nir, Political Director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.
Beard: Well, we’ve got quite the big episode for listeners today.
Nir: We sure do. We are going to hit a few stories that cropped up this week: the spate of GOP retirements in the House, a new voting rights ballot measure that activists are working to qualify in Ohio, and Republican gerrymandering in Georgia that has thrown two Black Democratic women into the same race. But then, we have an enormous preview of the 2024 elections coming up for you. We are doing an overview of all of the top races for Senate, House, governor, state legislatures, and state supreme courts. Sit back; there is a ton coming up. Let’s get rolling.
We started off the new year with an uninterrupted string of House GOP retirements, five in a row. No Democrats have called it quits, but four different Republican members of the House have said they’re simply retiring and a fifth one is running for the Senate. It’s almost like they really can’t stand the craziness, the absolute hell, that is serving as a member of the House GOP caucus.
Beard: Yeah, and I mentioned in a previous episode that this is a common time for retirements to pop up. People have gone home for the holidays. They’re looking to an election year. You’ll tend to see a couple of people call it quits as a result of that. But this is definitely quite a streak in the past week to see five members. It felt like basically every day we had a new person coming out and retiring.
The fact that they were all Republicans I think shows how dysfunctional the House GOP Conference really is. We saw just on Wednesday that a rule was defeated again on the House floor. So, they can’t pass anything that’s partisan, that has any controversy at all. All they can do is pass bills that would get through overwhelmingly. As a result, I think there’s a real question as to why a lot of these Republicans want to stick around. They’re like, “This isn’t what I signed up for. This is a disaster class in governance. So, why not just head home?”
Nir: A disaster class — I really like that. On Wednesday, we really started to see the next steps in the House GOP meltdown. You had some of these implacable, far-right types like Warren Davidson complaining really bitterly about Mike Johnson, who truly is one of them except for the fact that once you become Speaker of the House, if you decide you don’t want to engage in total self-immolation, then you actually have to do stuff like pass bills to fund the government, especially when the White House is in the hands of Democrats and the Senate is in the hands of Democrats. Now, they are once again, of course, completely predictably furious with Johnson for being willing to pass spending bills that don’t include crazy massive cuts that would be wildly unpopular and in any event, would go nowhere in the Senate.
Johnson has even started backtracking from his claim that he wouldn’t do any more short-term spending bills to keep the government open and that he would only agree to proper, long-term spending packages. That began to fall apart on Wednesday. There was that rule vote that you mentioned; it’s this arcane bit of parliamentary procedure except it’s the most important thing in terms of party unity that happens in the House. The rule is essentially the vehicle that is used to pass the underlying legislation. You never, ever are supposed to vote against your party’s rules, but just last year, not that long ago, another rule failed.
If I recall correctly, it was the first time in 20 years that a rule vote had failed in the House and of course, the last time that it happened was also under GOP control. This clown car is careening out of control.
Beard: For context, Nancy Pelosi never lost a rule in all of her time.
Nir: Hell, no.
Beard: As House Speaker, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, they never lost rules. They weren’t exactly shining figures of GOP governance, but they at least had the ability to pass their own rules and keep control of the House. But Kevin McCarthy and now Mike Johnson cannot. It’s really crazy. The fact that they have such a narrow majority and they have these Republican crazies who are so disconnected from the concept of governing that it’s impossible to convince them of anything.
The compromises that have come out around the top-line spending number and other things obviously aren’t everything Democrats wanted. It had cuts that they didn’t want, to future IRS funding, and rescission to COVID spending, but Democrats accepted those GOP priorities in order to keep some of their own priorities and get something that could pass. That’s what governing is all about in a divided government. These GOP folks are just like, “How dare you not get 100% of what we demanded?” Which is so unrealistic that it’s hard to know what to do with them.
Nir: It’s worth, I think, talking for a moment about who these retirees are. For the most part, with one big exception, they are not household names. It was Blaine Luetkemeyer in Missouri’s 3rd district, Doug Lamborn in Colorado’s 5th, Larry Bucshon in Indiana’s 8th, and John Curtis in Utah’s 3rd. He’s running for Senate. He’s the one guy who isn’t retiring. Though the one prominent name is Greg Pence, who is, of course, the older brother of Mike Pence in Indiana’s 6th district. For the most part, I would say, with the exception probably of Lamborn, these folks are not the hardest core, hard-right, implacable hardliners, to use the word hard over and over again because that is what they do, they make life hard.
John Curtis in particular, is the guy running for Senate in Utah; you can’t call him a moderate, but maybe a pragmatist. Greg Pence, a very weird figure, obviously by being part of the Pence family. He’s an establishment guy, even though he voted to reject Joe Biden’s win hours after the maniacs on Capitol Hill called to hang his own brother. An impossible guy to figure out.
But I think that we are seeing more of the less insane members head for the exits. What’s going to happen is that they’re almost certainly going to be replaced by the kind of people who actually are happy for this dysfunction, who thrive in the chaos, the Boeberts and the Gaetzes, and the less well-known types, like Paul Gosar or Ralph Norman, the people who just love to fuck shit up and cause trouble. I just see this problem as only getting worse.
Beard: Yeah, the downside to GOP retirements is you’re opening up a new congressional seat to the GOP primary electorate who loves their crazies. Now, like you said, a lot of these members aren’t known outside of their districts. The backbone of the House for both parties is you have tons and tons of members who are only known in their regions, and that’s how you get 435 members together that aren’t leadership or are really prominent figures or whatever.
But it matters where the middle of these caucuses are both for Democrats and Republicans. If these members represent the big middle of the GOP caucus, the more that they retire and get replaced by more extreme right-wingers, the more right-wing and extreme the House GOP Conference as a whole becomes. I don’t know if this is possible, but I guess the more ungovernable it becomes… I’m not sure it’s possible to become more ungovernable than it already is, but I’m sure they will try.
Nir: Well, the top lines are pretty interesting. We started the year with 22 Democratic open seats in the House and 13 Republican open seats. Now, it’s 22 to 18 and I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers balance out. All five of those seats that we’ve mentioned on the show today are all solidly to safely red. I wouldn’t really expect any of them to be competitive in a general election, but eventually, you pile up enough retirements and some of those open seats are going to wind up becoming competitive, even if you don’t necessarily expect them to be, like the Boebert district.
That wasn’t an open seat, of course, in 2022. But you can wind up with all kinds of crazy close races and seats that don’t look like they’re going to be competitive. This is never a good problem to have, having a lot of open seats.
Beard: I guarantee we are not done. There are definitely going to be more retirements. Hopefully, as you said, some retirements in some swingier districts that can really open up some really great opportunities for Democrats. But we’ll just have to wait and see who’s willing to stick it out in the House Republican Conference.
Now, we’ve talked about the House GOP Conference a ton. So, we’re going to move away from that topic. I want to talk about a new constitutional amendment that’s been proposed in Ohio that’s going to hopefully start collecting signatures sometime this year. This amendment would establish sweeping new protections for voting rights, deeming it a fundamental right, which would do a great thing for Ohio in that it would stop a lot of the shenanigans that Ohio Republicans and the legislature and allowed by the Ohio Supreme Court that make it more difficult for people to vote.
There’s quite a list of things that this amendment would do. I’m just going to run through a few of them. First of all, it would allow eligible voters who interact with Ohio’s DMV to be automatically registered, unless they choose to opt out. It allows for same-day registration. So, if you’re not registered to vote, you can go on election day, register, and vote. It would get rid of language that requires voters to re-register if they didn’t vote over a four-year period. It would also require early voting to be available in the 28 days before election day. Critically, it would remove a current GOP-backed limit of one early voting location per county.
This is really pernicious because it sounds like, “Oh, every county gets an early voting location.” Sure, that seems reasonable, but of course, counties have vastly different sizes. Ohio has 88 counties. Some of them are very tiny, and one center is probably enough for them. Some counties in Ohio have cities like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, which have hundreds of thousands of people, and clearly, one early voting center is not enough for a city the size of Columbus, Ohio. But of course, those are also more Democratic cities. They have a lot of minority voters. So, the Republicans, they don’t mind making sure they have a tough drive, or however they’re going to get there, to go to the early voting site.
So, this would get rid of that. That would allow counties to have multiple early voting sites, which is an extremely reasonable thing to do. It would do a list of other things to make sure that people had every opportunity to vote and were registered to vote and really make sure that voting in Ohio is fair and, to the extent possible, is not being messed around by Republicans in the state.
Now, obviously, we’ve been through the Ohio amendment process before. We just had the reproductive rights amendment that passed in 2023. So, there’s a bit of a process to get it on the ballot, but if we do see it, I think we’ve seen these voting amendments often have good results in states where people are supportive of voting rights.
Nir: Let’s not forget that voting rights activists are also moving forward with a separate amendment that would establish bonafide independent redistricting in the state of Ohio. Ohio is a state where Republicans have engaged in extreme gerrymandering and extreme voter suppression at the same time, of course, those two things go hand in hand, and Republicans have really made it unnecessarily difficult to vote and unnecessarily difficult for voters to be able to express their will and elect the kind of representatives that they want. If Ohio passes these two measures, I’m not saying that Ohio is going to turn into a blue state, obviously not, there’s way too much at play — demographics, history, and political geography all have a role — but Ohio really could transform from being a truly terrible state for voting rights into one of the better ones for sure, if both of these measures pass in November.
Beard: Yeah, and like you said, I think most of the time, at least in the near future, Ohio will probably elect Republicans more often than not. That’s not going to change because of these changes. But what will change is that there will be fair elections; there will be a fair representation of Democrats in the state legislature and in Congress, and that’s important for even if you live in a state like so many people do, where you’re not the majority party, it’s still your right to have that representation in your state legislature. So this redistricting amendment and this upcoming voting rights amendment, we’ll obviously be tracking it as the process to get on the ballot continues, and hope that we see some positive results out of Ohio.
Nir: Speaking of gerrymandering, we have to talk about what’s going on in Georgia where Republicans have managed to target two different Black women — Black Democrats, of course — through gerrymandering two different maps. And as a result, these two women are now facing off against one another. So last week, we talked extensively about how Republicans had targeted Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath and pushed her to run in a totally different congressional district. It’s now numbered the 6th district, but at the same time, Republicans have also targeted the Cobb County Commission.
Now, Cobb County is a very populous county in the Atlanta area that for decades and decades, was a GOP stronghold. It’s almost hard to overstate just exactly how red it was. It was for a long time, a haven for white flight, and Republicans really never questioned their dominance in that county. But like so many suburban areas, it has moved to the left in recent years, especially during and after the Trump era. And in 2020, Democrats took their first majority in 36 years on the Cobb County Commission, which is a five-member board that governs the county. And I should point out that all three members in that Democratic majority were Black women, including Jerica Richardson; she’s one of the commissioners.
Once again, we ask this rhetorical question, what should Republicans do when they find themselves losing elections in regions that they used to perform very well in? Should they adopt more popular policies, moderate their stances, or put forward more reasonable candidates? No, of course not. Of course not. They should just gerrymander the crap out of every map that they can to try to cling to power despite what voters want. Joe Biden won a double-digit majority in Cobb County in 2020, but Republicans reacted in the legislature — I should add, this is legislative Republicans — and gerrymandered the county commission map to try to restore a Republican majority on the county commission. So they targeted Jerica Richardson and redrew the map in 2022.
Litigation is still ongoing over that map, but the county commission tried to un-gerrymander the map by passing its own map. Unfortunately, a court ruled, just the other day, that the commission lacked the power to do this, and that the power rests with the legislature. So that’s left Richardson without a district. So she’s also decided to run for election in the 6th congressional district. So that sets up a primary between Richardson and McBath. Now, McBath of course, was targeted last cycle as well, heading into 2022. She had to run for a new district. So this is now the 3rd district she’ll be seeking in three election cycles. She doesn’t actually represent any of the new 6th district, Richardson represents about 11% of it. So a small foothold, not a ton.
There’s no question that McBath has a much higher profile. She became very well known even before she entered Congress as a gun safety advocate after her son was shot and killed by a gunman. So she’s very likely the favorite in this primary, but this is just a crappy situation and it’s 100% the GOP’s fault that they keep targeting Black women in gerrymanders. And what else are these folks supposed to do? Yeah, sure, they could call it a day and hang up their spurs and decide not to run for office again. But that feels just like giving in to Republican voter suppression, and I think that’s total bullshit. So it’s a really unfortunate situation that we’ve wound up in here.
But what I will say, whenever we discuss the Atlanta area and its suburbs, Republicans are losing a race against time. They can mess with the district lines all they want. This area is getting bluer and bluer. It’s extremely diverse, and at a certain point, they will not be able to gerrymander their way out of the hole they’ve created for themselves.
Beard: Absolutely, and I’ve become a bit familiar with this whole process because North Carolina Republicans in the state legislature love to gerrymander municipalities whenever they feel like they might be losing power or Democrats win something that Republicans don’t think they should have won. So this has happened a number of times in North Carolina.
It doesn’t surprise me that Republicans are doing this in Cobb County, even though like you said, it’s awful. But I do think McBath is a strong favorite here. Even though she doesn’t represent any of the district, she’s got an enormous amount of name recognition from her previous races in the Atlanta metro area. They’ve all been in these Atlanta suburban districts. So I would be pretty surprised if this were even competitive. But it sucks that it comes to this and we know who to blame: it’s Republicans in Georgia who won’t draw fair maps.
That does it for our weekly hits. But stay with us. In our next segment in our deep dive, we’re going to be going through all of the big races of 2024 all the way from Senate down to state legislature and Supreme Court. So it’s a lot to cover but stick with us.
So 2024, we know it’s a big election year. Obviously, there’s the overarching future-of-democracy election that we don’t talk a lot about here at “The Downballot.” So we’ll skip over the presidential and go right to all of the other races that you’re going to be finding on your ballot this year. And we’re going to start off in the US Senate.
It’s very close in the US Senate. It’s 51 to 49 currently, where Democrats control the chamber and there’s a bunch of seats that are going to be competitive. Unfortunately, they’re mostly held by Democrats. One that is almost certain to flip is West Virginia. Joe Manchin — who’s held a seat in a rapidly reddening state, which is now one of the most Republican in the country, West Virginia — is not running for reelection. So Democrats have basically given up on that seat and have ticked themselves down to 50 really before we start.
Nir: Yeah, I think that’s completely fair. And if anything though, I feel like Democrats, Democratic institutions in DC, would have felt obligated to spend on Joe Manchin and devote time to his race had he decided to run for reelection no matter how hopeless it is. These party committees simply have to support their incumbents no matter what. So I think taking West Virginia off the table maybe is a bit clarifying, and if anything, could be a little bit helpful to the Democrats who still have two extremely difficult races to hold. And I’m talking of course about Ohio and Montana.
Beard: Yeah. So if Democrats are already down to 50, that means they either have to hold all of their seats or counteract any losses with pickups, and we’ll talk about the pickups in a little bit, but they’re few and far between, so they’re really going to want to hold all of their remaining seats if they can. But Ohio and Montana are the two most difficult holds by a comfortable margin. Ohio, of course, is represented by Sherrod Brown, Montana by Jon Tester. They both won tough races in the past, so these are some battle-hardened incumbents, but we expect Trump to win both of these states, Ohio by a moderate margin and Montana by a comfortable margin. So that’s a lot of voters that these two senators are going to have to pick up who are going to vote for Trump, and then they got to convince them to vote for the Democratic Senate incumbent down the ballot.
Nir: The big question in 2024, as in 2022 for Republicans will be candidate quality. Right now, we don’t actually know who the GOP nominee is going to be in a lot of these races. In Montana in particular, far-right Congressman Matt Rosendale has been threatening to run against the DC establishment’s pick who’s rich guy Tim Sheehy. Rosendale has waited a long time. He could still get into the race. He’s probably more appealing to the Trumpist base than a guy like Sheehy who has clearly been picked simply because of his wealth, despite the fact that he has weak ties to this state. He’s from Minnesota, but Rosendale is from Maryland, so maybe that’s a wash.
But then also in Ohio, there is an ongoing three-way GOP. Primary Donald Trump recently endorsed another rich guy, Bernie Moreno. But, man, Moreno just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who has the qualities that will appeal to, shall we say, the kind of Republican voter who in November voted for the abortion rights amendment. And frankly, Ohio is not Republican enough for Moreno or whoever the GOP nominee is to completely dispense with these more moderate Republican voters. As much as Republican candidates would like to, that’s the reality of politics, and we’re going to see this play out in a lot of other states as well. But Republicans are probably going to hamstring themselves in more than one Senate race and plenty of House races too, because they nominate crappy candidates.
Beard: And the interesting thing is, even though Montana is substantially more Republican than Ohio at the presidential level, Montana also has a greater history of voters being willing to cross over to vote for Democrats despite being a Republican state; obviously, Tester has won his elections. They have a history of electing Democratic governors in the recent past. And so I think that they’re about on the same level in terms of both of them are obviously very vulnerable, but I can also see paths to victory for both of them, even though Tester nominally has more folks to convince than Sherrod Brown does, because Ohio will be closer at the presidential level than Montana will be.
Nir: So we’ve got a lot of other seats to talk about. I would say there are five other Democratic-held seats that we need to be most concerned about. Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And these are all swing states on the presidential level. The good news is that Joe Biden won all five of them in 2020, so if he can win them again in 2024, that creates a favorable environment for any down-ticket candidates. But each of these races presents a different situation from the next.
Beard: And we just want to run through these quickly, but there’s three obviously where we have incumbents. So Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Jacky Rosen in Nevada, and I think for all three of them, if Biden wins their states, they’re probably in really good shape to also win reelection. I think even, like, Bob Casey and Tammy Baldwin, they might even be strong enough to win despite a narrow Biden loss in their states. So we’ll have to see, but I think those three all have good, strong incumbents running.
In Michigan, we have an open seat. Elissa Slotkin, who’s a representative there, is the clear favorite, I think, at this point in the Democratic primary. So while she’s not an incumbent, she’s going to have a lot of resources. She knows how to run really difficult campaigns. She’s had one of the most competitive House seats in the nation, and so I think we’re in a similar situation there where I think if Biden wins Michigan, Slotkin is in a really good position to win as well.
And then we have Arizona, which is its own unique situation. Of course, Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat turned independent, but still caucusing with the Democrats who hasn’t announced her plans, is just throwing a wrench into all of this. If she doesn’t run, then we have a very straightforward open seat where Ruben Gallego is the Democratic nominee — he’s a congressman in Arizona — against Kari Lake, the self-appointed governor of Arizona. Obviously, she didn’t win an election, but she likes to think she’s the governor of Arizona. But if Sinema does run, then we have this potentially very messy three-way race where it’s unclear what may come of it.
Nir: All the polls of a potential three-way race, though, including a brand new one that just came out on Wednesday, have Sinema very far back. PPP, the Democratic pollster, which has polled for Gallego and pro-Gallego groups had Gallego up on Kari Lake 36-35. Obviously, that’s very close, but with Sinema at 17 — all the polls have shown this — I would be pretty shocked at this point if she ran again. She has absolutely no path to victory.
Lake of all the candidates that we mentioned here is unquestionably the worst, but actually, you know what? Hold on. I need to check myself on that. I think the worst Republican candidate on this list is in Wisconsin because they still don’t have anyone. It’s January of 2024, the election year. This is a major, major state, a major, major race. Republicans still do not have a legitimate candidate to take on Tammy Baldwin. I’m kind of blown away by that. We’re going to see some messy primaries in some of these other states in Pennsylvania. You’ve got David McCormick, who again has weak ties to the state. He’s got these multimillion-dollar homes in Connecticut where he ran his hedge fund for years. I don’t understand it, Beard. Pennsylvania is not a small state like Montana. Why can’t they find a dude who’s actually from there? Remember Dr. Oz, same thing. This can’t be that hard.
Beard: Yeah. Is there not a rich businessman in the Philadelphia area who could do this for them who’s just the same as David McCormick, but actually lives in Pennsylvania? Because we’ve been covering US politics for quite a while now, and the number of random rich guys that the Republicans just pop out of everywhere and anywhere continues to amaze me, but for some reason there are none of them actually in the state of Pennsylvania.
Nir: Totally, totally wild. Can’t figure it out. I hope they keep enjoying this problem forever.
Beard: So that’s a lot of Democratic seats that are up and are competitive and they have to hold them all if they want to keep the Senate without any pickups. So the alternative is to pick up a Republican seat. We’ve seen Democrats do that. The problem is the map is rough. There aren’t any Republicans in states where you go and you think, oh, why don’t the Democrats target that Republican? That’s a really competitive state, or that’s a blue-leaning state. There are basically two that are even within the realm of possibility, and the problem is they’re really, really big states. So not only are they a bit of a long shot, they’re expensive to contest.
We’ve got Texas where Ted Cruz is running for reelection. He of course had a very close race in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke and is not, I think, terribly popular in Texas. There’s a number of Democrats running I want to say, but the favorite is Colin Allred, a representative from the Dallas area, and I think he’s a very respectable nominee.
I think if polls are showing a close race, I could see some investment happening here. It’s just so expensive to run a real campaign in Texas. It’s a huge state. It’s got a ton of media markets. So if I had to pick one of the two that I think could come on board, it’s this one because I think Texas, we’ve seen it over the years. It’s been trending blue. Like I said, Cruz’s last race was very competitive, but obviously, I think we still expect Trump to win the state, and so it’s just a tough hill to climb at this point to defeat an incumbent senator while the presidential nominee of that senator’s party is winning the state like we expect to happen in Texas.
The other state is Florida, where you’ve got another, I think, not a very popular senator in Rick Scott, who narrowly won his 2018 Senate race. But of course, as we’ve seen, Florida is turning in the opposite direction. We’ve seen some really bad results out of Florida, of course in 2022 most notably. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as 2022 was, but it’s again, hard to imagine Scott losing while we expect Trump to win the state at the presidential level. Again, there’s a respectable nominee that Democrats have recruited in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who’s a one-term representative who won in 2018 and lost in 2020 from the south Florida area. But like Allred’s issues, it’s just really expensive to run a campaign in Florida.
Nir: I think the key for both Mucarsel-Powell and Allred is they’re going to have to fundraise like Beto O’Rourke did because it was O’Rourke’s fundraising that put that race on the map because he was able to show that independently of any outside help, he was going to have the funds to make Cruz really sweat. And he did because Cruz only won that race by three points. The best thing that both of these two Democrats have going for them is that Ted Cruz and Rick Scott are probably the two most hated Republicans in the Senate GOP caucus who are up for election this cycle and possibly any cycle, maybe aside from Mitch McConnell himself. So as O’Rourke showed, you can raise a fuckton of money if you’re running against Ted Cruz, and really there’s no reason why you can’t against Rick Scott as well. And I think that if those two Democratic candidates can tap into grassroots fundraising and energy and intensity and, frankly, hatred of those two Republican incumbents, then those races could get a lot more interesting.
Beard: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think we should write either race off and we’ll just have to see how things develop. It’s one of those things where I think a lot of Democratic organizations are going to take a hard look at them over the summer and try to make a decision. Do we think that something that’s worth spending a ton of money in because defeating Ted Cruz in Texas for example, would be huge both for obviously defeating Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz is awful, but the flexibility then of being able to lose one of the other seats and still hold the majority would just be an enormous, enormous benefit. But like I said, you’re going to put 20 million into this? That’s the question a lot of Democratic organizations are going to face.
Nir: So we have to talk about the House, which of course is just as narrowly divided as the Senate. Republicans only have a five-seat majority. This is with us assigning all current vacant seats to the party that currently controls them. Though that could change on February 13th because if Democrats flip George Santos’s district, New York’s 3rd district, in the special election, then suddenly Democrats only need to pick up four seats. But there’s a bunch of other math that has shifted thanks to redistricting in a couple of states and the numbers could shift even further. So we can’t exactly lock in that figure of five seats or maybe four seats just yet.
Beard: We’ve got two states where we know what’s going to happen in terms of shifted seats, of course. Alabama where an additional Black district was created that allowed Black voters to elect the candidate of their choice. That’s also a very Democratic-leaning district, so we expect Democrats to pick up a seat from Alabama. Conversely, in my wonderful home state of North Carolina, we expect Republicans to pick up three seats after the newly Republican state supreme court let a massive gerrymander become the law of the land and target a bunch of Democratic representatives.
So if you’re keeping track, that means we’ve got one Republican to Democrat shift and three Democrat to Republican shifts. Those are locked in. So if it were just those, it would be a net +2 shift to Republicans. But we’ve got a few states where redistricting is still outstanding as we wait for legal rulings, so there may be more shifts in these safe seats.
Nir: Right. And at the top of that list is New York where the state’s highest court recently ordered the state’s redistricting commission to draw a new map. Now we have no idea what that’s going to look like. There’s been some reporting suggesting that the commissioners might try to pass something that looks very much like the current court-drawn map and that winds up happening and it makes its way through the legislature. Then you really wouldn’t necessarily see a Democratic gain just based on shifting lines. Or we could wind up in a situation where Democrats decide to get super aggressive and multiple districts move toward Democrats and come off the table for Republicans.
On top of that, there’s Louisiana where a case very similar to the one in Alabama is still pending. So we could see that map get redrawn and a new district where Black voters would be able to elect their preferred candidate could come online, and that would almost certainly be a Black Democrat.
And then there’s still Florida. I’ve mostly given up hope on Florida right now; cases are on appeal where a lower court said that the state had to reinstate a largely Black and Democratic-leaning district in the northern part of the state. And an intermediate appeals court said, no, it didn’t. And now it’s on appeal to Florida’s Supreme Court, which is very conservative-leaning. So like I said, I really wouldn’t expect too much to happen there, but we could still see some play in the joints with the nationwide congressional map before fields are locked in nationwide.
Beard: And I think particularly in New York, the interesting thing there obviously is a lot of these seats are competitive already. And you could very well see Democrats pick up a lot of these seats even under the current court-drawn map, which won’t be the map, but if it had stayed, they were still really good targets for Democrats because the party did so poorly in 2022. But obviously, if they get even better, then it may be the case where Republicans aren’t even contesting some of those seats.
Nir: Yeah, and overall I would say the playing field still favors Democrats. Even with the recent North Carolina gerrymander, there are still only eight Democrats in House districts that were won by Donald Trump, while there are now 19 Biden districts — in other words, districts represented by Republicans that were won by Joe Biden. So if you put aside everything else, those 19 Biden/R districts, which includes the Alabama district that was just created, that’s twice as many as the number of Trump/D districts. You always want to be the party that has more districts of your flavor, shall we say, heading into an election, than fewer.
Beard: Absolutely. And you could even imagine a scenario in which the Senate flipped to Republicans and the House flipped to Democrats in the same election if it was quite close. And that’s something that’s pretty unusual; it’d be pretty uncommon in American history. Usually, if they both flipped, they flipped together in the same direction; an opposite direction would be quite unusual. But as we mentioned, the map for Senate Democrats is just so bad. That’s what could make this unusual result happen.
Now, moving on to the state level, most governorships are elected in the midterm years. In 2022 we just had a ton of governors’ elections, but some states elect their governors in presidential years. My home state of North Carolina is one of those, and it’s probably got the marquee gubernatorial race of the cycle, where Attorney General Josh Stein for the Democrats is likely going to be facing off against Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson for the Republicans.
Now, both of these candidates have primary challengers, but both of them have big leads in the primary polling, and I think it would be really a shock if either of them didn’t come out of the primary that’s taking place in March. So that’s going to be a battle royale. Of course, North Carolina has been a very competitive swing state. We’ve had a number of very disappointing losses for Democrats in various seats, but they’ve managed to hold onto the governor’s mansion thanks to Roy Cooper for the last two cycles. And Josh Stein is hoping to recreate his move from the attorney general’s office to the governor’s seat.
The other big competitive gubernatorial race is in New Hampshire, which is also an open seat there. There we’ve got primaries on both sides and New Hampshire’s primary is really late. It’s at the beginning of September, so it’s not going to be clear who exactly the nominees are for quite a while, but we should expect a very competitive election now that this is open for the first time in eight years.
Nir: Beard. I’m glad you mentioned New Hampshire because that’s the perfect hook for talking about our next topic, which are competitive state legislatures. New Hampshire definitely will be at the top of the list. Both the state House and the state Senate could potentially flip in 2024. New Hampshire is one of the swingiest states in the nation. Democrats wound up picking up both legislative chambers in 2018, only to lose both of them in 2020. It’s very rare to see that sort of thing happen, but I think that they could both flip back in 2024, especially if Joe Biden is winning at the top of the ticket. I suspect that he will pull Democrats along behind him, both for the and for the state legislature.
We’ve talked about the state House of New Hampshire a lot, which is supremely closely divided. The numbers are always in flux because there are 400 members and there are always resignations, but really it’s just a couple of seats and the Senate also is very, very close, and the Democrats also need just a handful of seats. I definitely have these at the top of my list for possible flips, especially the House.
Beard: Absolutely, particularly after we saw New Hampshire be one of those positive surprises of 2022, when Democrats ended up doing much better than expected and, as you said, got so close in the New Hampshire House when they weren’t really expected to pick up seats after their losses in 2020. They did really well in 2022, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that continue into 2024.
There are a few other states where Democrats are going to be going after majorities where Republicans are pretty vulnerable. The top of that list is the Arizona House and the Arizona Senate. In both of those chambers, the Republican majority is razor-thin and Democrats are going to be gunning for majorities in both of those chambers. Obviously, with Katie Hobbs winning the governorship in 2022, if Democrats were able to win majorities in both chambers in Arizona, they could have a trifecta for the first time in a long time and do a lot of progressive legislating in Arizona, just like we’ve seen in Michigan and Minnesota when Democrats were able to take those trifectas in 2022.
Another chamber that Democrats are going to be going after is the Wisconsin Assembly.
Beard: Yes. Thanks to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s progressive majority, which struck down the heavily, heavily gerrymandered state legislative maps, the Wisconsin Assembly will be running under a new map. We don’t have that map yet, but we expect it to be more politically neutral, which means that Democrats, who tend to win about 50% of the vote in Wisconsin give or take, should have a reasonable chance to win a majority in the Wisconsin Assembly. So, obviously, you’re going to need to see maps, going to need to see candidates and all of that, but that’s definitely a chamber that’s going to be at the top of the list for Democrats to take back.
Nir: And we can’t forget about the Wisconsin Senate; that’s going to get a new un-gerrymandered map as well. The reason why Democrats probably won’t take it back in 2024 is that only half of the Senate is up in any given election year and the state Supreme Court declined to order special elections for the other half of the Senate, so you’re going to have basically half un-gerrymandered, half gerrymandered, but that does mean that Democrats have a two-cycle opportunity here, so they’ll have to fight both in 2024 and in 2026. So, do not forget about the Wisconsin Senate, because it’s vitally important to have a good year this year so that we can set ourselves up well two years from now.
Beard: Absolutely, and that leads me to the last Democratic target chamber I wanted to talk about, which is the Pennsylvania Senate, which is in cycle two of that same process. Similarly, Pennsylvania Senate, half of the chamber is up every two years, and so after they got new fair maps, they did the first half of their chamber in 2022. The other half of the chamber is now up in 2024, and so Democrats will be looking to take that chamber the way that they took the Pennsylvania House in 2022. Of course, since they took the House in 2022, they’ll have to defend that majority, because in the House, the entire body is up every two years. It’s a very narrow majority, as we’ve talked about on the show before, it’s a one-seat majority. They’ve had a number of special elections over the past year and there’s another one coming up to defend that one-seat majority. But, of course, in November, all 203 seats will be up, so Democrats will be looking to defend that one-seat majority and potentially even expand it, so they don’t have to sweat every single special election that comes along.
Nir: Well, there are two other chambers where Democrats have small majorities that they will be defending as well. In the Michigan House, Democrats have just a two-seat majority there. In fact, right now it’s actually tied. We’re waiting on a couple of special elections in some pretty safely blue districts to restore that two-seat Democratic majority. But that was one of the big surprises in 2022 when Democrats picked up that chamber. Again, an un-gerrymandered map, thanks to the state’s new redistricting commission there.
In the Minnesota House, Democrats have a slightly larger majority there, but again, that one is going to be very competitive, and of course, Democrats just unexpectedly took back the trifecta in Minnesota by winning the Senate in 2022, allowing them to pass all kinds of amazing legislation, just like their counterparts in Michigan. The Minnesota Senate, however, is not up in 2024, and the same is true for the Michigan Senate. So, we’re dealing with just one chamber in each of those two states.
Beard: Now, we could go down, down into the rabbit hole and we absolutely will when interesting races pop up, but there’s only so far we can go in this episode. So, there is one more level of races that we want to discuss before we wrap up, and that is state Supreme Courts, an issue that is of course near and dear to “The Downballot’s” hearts. And there are a few states we want to hit. Of course, we’re going to start with North Carolina. There’s one very important seat up that is an appointed Democrat, Allison Riggs. She’ll be running for her first full term in 2024. And this is important, because right now there are only two Democrats on the seven-seat North Carolina Supreme Court, and so in order to take back the court to a Democratic majority, you first have to hold this seat in 2024, and then you need to hold the other Democratic seat, held by Anita Earls, in 2026, and then you can start going after the Republican seats in 2028 to try to win back a majority. But like I said, you have to start in 2024. We’ve got to make sure Allison Riggs gets a full term in office.
Nir: Then there’s Ohio. That’s a more difficult state for Democrats, obviously because it’s a redder state, but Republicans still only have a four to three majority on the court there. For Democrats to win back the majority, they would need to sweep the 2024 elections. Two Democratic seats are up and one Republican seat is up. I would say that Democrats definitely face long odds, but we just saw how Janet Protasiewicz in Wisconsin far exceeded the state’s normal partisan lean by running the kind of campaign she did, emphasizing her support for abortion rights and her opposition to gerrymandering.
If Ohio Democrats can replicate that, then perhaps they can run ahead of the state’s normal lean as well. Protasiewicz won by double digits in a state that is basically completely neutral. So, Ohio, if we spot Republicans say about eight or nine points there, well, it would be really, really difficult, but if Democrats can center these issues that Republicans really don’t want to talk about, then yeah, I would say it’s a possibility.
Beard: Another state with competitive state Supreme Court elections is Michigan, where Democrats hold a four to three majority on the court. There are two seats up for election in 2024, 1 held by a Republican and one held by a Democrat. The Democrat was appointed by Gretchen Whitmer, it’s Kyra Harris Bolden. She ran for the state Supreme Court in 2022 and lost, in part because incumbents are designated on the ballot in judicial elections in Michigan, and so they have a big, big leg up. She didn’t have that leg up in 2022. She now is going to have that leg up in 2024 as she runs for a full term after being appointed. So, assuming that both of the incumbents run for reelection, they’re usually heavily favored in Michigan, because of the way the ballot is designed. But of course, it’s definitely a state that we want to keep an eye on to ensure that Democrats maintain that four to three majority.
Nir: Yeah, she came quite close. She only lost the second slot by two points, because it was 30 for Bernstein, 20 for Brian Zara, the Republican, and then Bolden got 22.
Beard: Yeah, I remember it was not bad. Yeah, I remember it being like…
Nir: That’s a good showing.
Beard: Yeah, considering.
Nir: Well, we started with Montana and we are going to wrap up with Montana. The Montana Supreme Court is a little bit difficult to pin down ideologically. The elections there are nonpartisan, but right now it’s fair to describe the court as having three liberals, two swing justices, and two conservatives. But the mainstream, or liberal, position has often been successful. In fact, the court has unanimously struck down GOP attempts to restrict abortion rights because a previous Supreme Court held that the state constitution guarantees the right to an abortion. Unfortunately, two liberals are both retiring, not seeking reelection and that gives conservatives a chance to totally reshape the court. We could wind up with a four to three hard-line conservative majority. However, Republicans tried very hard in 2022 to defeat one of these swing justices, and they came up short. So, the state is still clearly willing to elect mainstream independent jurists to the court, and we have to hope that that streak continues in 2024.
Beard: Well, that was a ton of information and we squeezed in a lot of races in a short period of time. These are all campaigns and candidates that we’re going to be covering more and more as the year goes on, and we’ll also be hitting a lot of other races down the ballot; attorney general, mayors, other interesting races that pop up throughout the year. So keep listening as election 2024 heats up and moves forward.
That’s all from us this week. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing [email protected]. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor Trever Jones, and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.
Author: The Downballot