By Adam Pritzker & Daniel Squadron
Campaigns can be a tricky game. Despite all that political practitioners have learned about the most effective strategies and tactics over the years, the truth is that there’s still no universally accepted scientific formula for winning elections.
Naturally, this can lead to tough questions, such as which states to play in, what races to target, and which tactics to employ. Should Democrats prioritize playing defense in states where the party already holds majorities? Or should we also commit significant time and resources to going on offense and trying to flip chambers in states controlled by the other side, even if it may be an uphill battle? These are the kinds of questions that were regularly weighed across the country over the past two years.
At The States Project, we had a clear point of view: We were laser-focused on defending and building pro-democracy governing power in state legislatures in the key swing states that would be in a position to defend democracy and prevent the theft of the 2024 presidential election. That mission (and a ream of the most rigorous data available) guided us to heavily invest in states where others said the victories we envisioned were virtually impossible — namely, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Arizona.
And, against all odds, we won where we needed to. (And as we’ve said before, getting close in some of these key states this year is a victory for democracy in and of itself.) Here are the four states nobody else thought were worth investing in the way we did, but where our investments have helped propel Democratic victories where it mattered most:
The national party didn’t spend a dime on state legislative races in Pennsylvania this year, but we thought a flip was possible in the Keystone State… by 2024. We believed that the stakes were high enough that it was important to push to pick up as many seats as possible this year, setting up our efforts to win the majority next cycle. So we went all in — spending 80 times more than the next largest group. All we asked of our candidates? Knock doors. A lot of them. And they did! Now Democrats have won a history-making majority in the chamber, with Rep. Joanna McClinton poised to become the first ever African-American woman to serve as Speaker of the House.
We invested 8 times more than the next largest state legislative giver — ensuring that Democrats were actually playing to win in both chambers, even when the national party and others said to give up and get out of key races. In the House, others said the majority was a pipe dream, but we insisted it was possible. And it turns out, we were right. Our investment helped fuel Democratic efforts to win majorities in both chambers and the party’s first trifecta in the state in 40 years.
In the Gopher State, we again were the largest funder of state legislative campaigns and similarly stopped the focus from shrinking to only defending the House, because we believed Democrats could also flip the Senate. We refused to leave any opportunity on the table. And now? Democrats won both chambers and will hold a trifecta in St. Paul. But if less than 1,000 votes had gone the other way both chambers would be in Republican hands — 161 in the Senate and 737 in the House. Every dollar of our investment was critical.
We were also the largest contributor in Arizona, investing nearly 30 times more than the next largest funder. Now Democrats have held ground in a state we were laughed at for being in by national groups. Holding the one seat margin in each chamber will give democracy a fighting chance in the state ahead of the 2024 presidential race, when Arizona appears likely to be ground zero for the rightwing’s next wave of attacks on free and fair elections.
To be clear, no one knew what was going to happen in this election. That’s why our philosophy was simple: state legislative races are too important — and the stakes for our democracy too high — to give up before the votes were even cast. Our side has been doing that for too long. So even though the odds seemed long, we invested anyway. We couldn’t afford not to.
And it’s a good thing we did. Because all that progress would not have been possible without the significant investments made by The States Project and the tremendous work done by candidates and campaigns to meet their voters where they are. In several cases, we were the only major funder working on state legislative races in a significant way. Put simply, if we were not in these states, those investments don’t get made — and our Democratic candidates likely don’t have the resources needed to win.
In the most competitive races and chambers, where the margins of victory are razor-thin, every single dollar makes a massive difference. We were honored to be able play a key part in the crucial wins Democrats needed to defend democracy in these four states, especially after being told that success wasn’t possible. We are also proud of our work with national groups to defend majorities and prevent supermajorities in Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, and Nebraska, and are continuing to closely watch the outcome of our work with others in the New Hampshire House.
Campaigns are won by those who show up. The States Project made sure to show up in these states in 2022 — and we believe that gave our democracy a fighting chance.