How We Win Digest: Down Ballot with Rita Bosworth
The following is a companion to Swing Left’s How We Win podcast, Episode #63. Listen to the episode here and don’t forget to subscribe!
In a mass email sent out three days after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Swing Left announced three new U.S. Senate targets — Texas, Kansas and South Carolina — plus nine “critical state house races,” in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas. “We’re constantly adding state legislative race targets (those most likely to flip control of state house and senate chambers). Supporting these down ballot candidates will help boost turnout for the Senate and presidential races.”
Rita Bosworth, founder of the grassroots Sister District Project organization, whose sole focus has been on state races since its inception in 2017, put it another way. “We’re not taking away from the work that we need to do to elect Biden/Harris; it’s just enhancing that work,” she told host Steve Pierson. “If you get out the vote for a state legislative candidate, and get them to the polls, they’re gonna vote for the top of the ticket — right? You’re not gonna leave that blank. That doesn’t always happen in reverse.”
It certainly didn’t happen in the 2016 election in constituencies where Hilary Clinton won the presidential vote while the party’s congressional candidate lost. For example, in Virginia, which Hilary won by five points, while Republicans retained control of its congressional delegation. Both the State House, Senate and congressional delegation, flipped in 2018, in good measure thanks to the laser-like focus of Sister District. Along with a Democratic governor, Virginia became what Bosworth called a “trifecta” state producing, among other changes, a new voting rights act, stricter gun control laws and a rollback of abortion restrictions.
“I can’t overstate the power of local and state elections” and [the elected representatives] that are making decisions,” said Bosworth. “This is actually the stuff that affects people on the ground.” Not to mention redistricting and its offshoot, voter suppression, both the purview of state representatives. “We started Sister District, in order to really drill down on this issue of redistricting unfairness.”
Neither the media, nor, it must be said, the centralized Democratic Party, have paid much attention to state races, at least until recently. ‘Arizona Democrats have their best chance in generations to grab some power at the state Capitol” — both in the state House and Senate noted the Arizona Republic earlier this month. That would be a first in 54 years.
‘Ginsburg’s death brings new uncertainty to the battle over voting rights,’ the Washington Post headlined three days after RBG’s passing. “As Democrats and voting rights advocates seek to lower barriers to voting during the pandemic, the Supreme Court has largely deferred to local and state officials, showing a reluctance to upend rules close to the election.” Yes, local and state officials may have a critical say on the future of American democracy.
Other well-funded groups have sprung up recently, like Way to Lead PAC, whose “mission is to support candidates for public office (in 59 primarily state races, in 12 primarily battleground states) — from prosecutor to mayor to state senator to congresswoman — who are committed to seeking justice for all communities and creating a democracy that is truly accountable to its people.” On Thursday Daily Kos published its Elections State Legislative Open Seat Tracker. “Overall, Democrats are contesting more seats at the legislative level than Republicans, and fewer of the party’s incumbents have opted to retire, suggesting continued optimism about Team Blue’s chances across the country.
“This will be an important year for state legislative races, especially with redistricting right around the corner, and these open seats could end up playing a big role in races to control legislative chambers across the country.”
On the day of RBG’s death, Rita Bosworth sent out this email. It reads in part,
The world stopped spinning on its axis for a moment today. We are heartbroken by the news that we have lost Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There are few words to describe what she meant to the progressive community, and what her absence will mean for the future of this country.
I cannot sugarcoat this — it is an incredible loss at an incredibly precarious moment in our history. And the weeks ahead are going to be even tougher than expected. But know this: the future is not written yet.
Mourn her death, but continue moving forward. Do not let this extinguish your hope; rather, let hope burn brightly as a reminder that your actions matter, and we have the ability to continue making progress, even against all odds. She certainly did.
-Andrew S. Ross