Democrats in the Twilight of the Obama Era

Check out this story from the Associated Press looking at the diverging political successes of President Obama and down ballot congressional and state Democrats. This is the dynamic of the past eight years that Democrats are trying to reverse, starting with the election of the next Democratic National Committee chair in February, followed by a series of congressional special elections and state legislative and gubernatorial races later on in 2017.

Northam Leads Virginia Republican Candidates in New Poll

Eleven months out from the Virginia gubernatorial election, Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam leads the four Republican candidates for the race in a new poll released by Quinnipiac University:

  • Northam 38
    Ed Gillespie 34
  • Northam 39
    Rob Wittman 30
  • Northam 39
    Frank Wagner 30
  • Northam 38
    Corey Stewart 29

Gillespie – the former chairman of the Republican National Committee – leads the Republican field in large part from name recognition after his narrow loss to Mark Warner in the 2014 Virginia Senate race:

  • Gillespie 24
  • Wittman 10
  • Wagner 4
  • Stewart 4

The majority of Republican voters – 57 percent – are undecided. It should also be noted that Wittman dropped out of the race last week.

Virginia governors approve of the job Governor Terry McAuliffe is doing 52-30. McAuliffe can’t run for reelection because Virginia state law limits governors to one term. Broken down into political demographics:

  • Democrats approve 75-8.
  • Independents approve 52-32.
  • Republicans disapprove 57-27.

Virginia is a rare bright spot in the south for Democrats, and one of their big success stories over the past decade in state and presidential election cycles. Democrats currently hold all five statewide elected offices – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and both U.S. Senate seats – in what had previously been a Republican-leaning state.

Democratic Governors Want Next DNC Chair to Commit to Investing in State Races

The Democratic Governors Association released an open letter to the candidates running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee listing the five criteria the DGA will use to evaluate candidates. From the letter:

1) Real, measurable commitment to investing resources in winning gubernatorial and state legislative races in 2018 and 2020, years that will decide the fate of redistricting;

2) A commitment to investing in organizing in states with competitive gubernatorial and legislative races — not just in states with competitive presidential or congressional elections;

3) A commitment from the candidate to serving full time as chair;

4) Commitment to provide resources to state parties for organizing and communications staff; to provide technical assistance for redistricting; provide training and support to recruit and support next generation of Democratic leaders;

5) A commitment to working with Democratic governors and other state policy leaders on advancing policies that grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.

The first two points are especially critical for the party’s short and long-term rebuilding plans. First, congressional redistricting is four years away, and in order to redraw more favorable maps, Democrats need to control governorships and state legislatures. (South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison noted at the forum organized by the Ohio Democratic Party last week: “33 out of 50 governorships are controlled by Republicans, 69 out of 99 state houses are controlled by Republicans, but we only obsess about the White House.”) The fact that the Democrats’ 2017-2018 calendar is much better at the state level than at the congressional level gives this even greater urgency.
The second reason is that they need to rebuild their bench in a hurry so that a new post-Obama, post-Clinton generation of leaders can make their way up the ranks. Remember, Barack Obama was in the Illinois state senate for seven years before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which became his springboard to the presidency four short years later.

Former Saturday Night Live Star Considering Run for New Jersey Governor

Following in the footsteps of Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), former Saturday Night Live star Joe Piscopo said he was seriously considering running for governor of New Jersey next year, a decision he would probably make in January.

“They just want to see change.  They want us to rip up Trenton inside out and backwards,” Piscopo is quoted as saying. The problem for Piscopo is he would run as a Republican, and Chris Christie has been governor since 2009. He still has another year left in office, but he is already a lame duck in large part because of Bridgegate.  Christie received a 19 percent approval rating in a new Quinnipiac University poll, the lowest of any governor in that poll’s history.  That kind of political environment would make it very difficult for any Republican to run.

Federal Court Orders New Election in 2017 for 28 North Carolina State Districts

There was an interesting development in North Carolina this afternoon that didn’t have anything to do with the recount in the governor’s race. From the Raleigh News & Observer:

A federal court on Tuesday ordered North Carolina to hold a special legislative election next year after 28 state House and Senate districts are redrawn to comply with a gerrymandering ruling.

U.S. District Court judges earlier this year threw out the current legislative district map, ruling that 28 of them were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. They allowed the 2016 election to continue under the old maps, but ordered legislators to draw new districts in 2017.

Tuesday’s order settled the question of whether the new districts would take effect for the regularly scheduled 2018 election cycle, or if a special election would be required.

“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the three-judge panel wrote in the order.

“The court recognizes that special elections typically do not have the same level of voter turnout as regularly scheduled elections, but it appears that a special election here could be held at the same time as many municipal elections, which should increase turnout and reduce costs.”

The order gives legislators a March 15 deadline to draw new district maps. Every legislator whose district is altered will have their current term shortened.

A primary would be held in late August or early September – the legislature is responsible for setting the exact date – with the general election in November, the order says.

This is the latest in a series of court rulings on voting laws and practices in the state, going back to last summer when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s voter ID law. In its ruling, the court concluded, “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and called it, “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
This means that there will be three states with statewide legislative races next year (the other two being New Jersey and Virginia, which are also having gubernatorial elections), though in the case of North Carolina it will only be the 28 gerrymandered districts affected by the ruling. According to the News & Observer, Republicans currently have a 74-seat supermajority in the House and a 35-seat supermajority in the Senate.
Here is the response to the ruling from the North Carolina General Assembly, relayed via the North Carolina Republican Party:

The North Carolina Democratic Party’s response:

UPDATE: I received this statement on Wednesday from DLCC executive director Jessica Post and DLCC board member Larry Hall:

“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in their state government, and Republicans’ illegal racial gerrymander made that impossible,” said Post. “We are thrilled for the voters of the Tarheel State that these maps are being redrawn. The GOP’s illegal redistricting was the first in a series of extreme right-wing overreaches that ultimately led to heinous policies like HB2 and the racially-motivated voter disenfranchisement law struck down by the courts earlier this year. The redrawing of the maps and subsequent elections will be the first steps in undoing the damage Republicans have spent the past six years inflicting on the state.

“We look forward to working with North Carolina legislators and leaders, including DLCC Board Member and Democratic House Leader Larry Hall, as this situation continues to evolve on the ground.”