Democrats gain hundreds of legislative seats and secure majority of state attorneys general • Washington Post

By Tim Craig November 7, 2018

After years of trying, Democrats expanded their influence in state capitols on Tuesday, flipping more than 300 state legislative seats while also claiming a majority of the nation’s attorney general offices.

The Democratic gains mark a significant turnaround for a party that had been losing clout in state legislatures for nearly a decade, allowing Republicans in many states to loosen restrictions on firearms, push through new voter-identification laws and weaken environmental regulations. Democrats had also ceded enormous power to Republicans to redraw congressional boundaries.

The victories — buoyed by an apparent net Democratic pickup of seven governorships — will also help fortify the party’s efforts to use states as a firewall against President Trump, including through coordinated lawsuits against the administration.

Although some returns are preliminary, Democrats appear to have won new attorney general offices in ColoradoMichigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. If confirmed, Democrats will occupy 27 of the nation’s 51 attorney general offices next year.

“We now have four more AGs in the room . . . who will be ready to hold this administration in check,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum, the chairwoman of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have an attorney general, although the functions and responsibilities of each office can vary greatly.

Over the past two years, the Democratic attorneys general have stepped up their efforts to coordinate, including weekly conference calls to discuss legal challenges against Trump. Over the past 18 months, Democratic attorneys general have filed dozens of lawsuits against Trump, including several aimed at preventing him from modifying the Affordable Care Act.

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic attorney general of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that the election results reaffirm Democrats’ strategy of pushing their agenda through the courts.

“There is going to be gridlock in Washington that is going to rule the day,” Shapiro said, referring to expected partisan fights next year between the White House and a divided Congress.

“But what is clear is that the attorneys general will actually be working to get things done. . . protecting people, individual rights and being the only effective check on the federal government.”

In all, 30 states and the District held races for attorney general on Tuesday. Zack Roday, communicators director for the Republican Attorneys General Association, said in an interview that Tuesday’s election amounted to “a natural” leveling of what had been years of GOP dominance in attorney general races.

“This is a reflection of the environment and to the fact these states had been under Republican control for a long time, and these races . . . ebb and flow,” Roday said, noting that Republicans still won fiercely contested attorney general races in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, South Dakota and South Carolina.

For Democrats, however, the wins represented the party’s broader effort to rebound after it was pummeled in local and state races when President Barack Obama was in office.

In 2010, during Obama’s first midterm elections, Republicans won control of 21 additional state legislative chambers after more than 700 new GOP legislators were elected.

Before Tuesday’s election, Republicans held the majority in two-thirds of state legislative chambers. Republicans also held 33 of the nation’s 50 governorships, just one below their all-time high of 34.

Now, after new state leaders are sworn in next month or in January, Republicans will have a 27-23 advantage over Democrats in governorships, if results hold.

Democrats also will have made up ground in state legislatures.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) said the party won at least 323 GOP-held legislative seats on Tuesday. Republicans counter that they won nearly 100 seats held by Democrats.

Still, the DLCC is confident that Democrats have won new majorities in the Colorado Senate, the New York Senate, the Maine Senate, the Minnesota House, and both the Senate and the House in New Hampshire.

Democrats also significantly eroded Republican legislative majorities in Pennsylvania, North Carolinaand Arizona while also making more-modest inroads in Florida and Michigan.

In New York, Democrats won eight state Senate seats, ending about a decade of GOP control while giving their party complete control over both the legislative and executive branches of government.

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who will probably become the new Senate leader, said even she was surprised by the extent of her party’s wins on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, which she credited to unusually high turnout.

“I think people realized after the 2016 elections that four years between presidential elections is a long time, but state legislatures matter,” Stewart-Cousins said.

She expects many Democratic priorities will now swiftly move through the legislative process.

“Whether it’s gun laws, or criminal justice reform, or reproductive rights issues, to acknowledging climate change, there are many things that have not been able to move because of my Republican colleagues,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We are expecting we will be able to restore trust in government for New Yorkers as well as being a progressive beacon.”

Former Florida attorney general Bill McCollum, the chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said GOP losses in state races are still relatively limited considering the number of seats the party was defending.

McCollum noted that high-profile Democrats, including Obama and former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., have made it a priority to focus on legislative and statewide offices. Holder’s group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, raised more than $18 million to try to influence state elections.

“We kept both the Wisconsin House and Senate, the Michigan House and Senate, and the Senate in Pennsylvania, and those were three very big priorities for them,” McCollum said.

Even so, McCollum acknowledges that Democrats will probably be even more aggressive in targeting local and statewide GOP-held offices in 2020.

“They have finally figured out they have to pay attention,” said McCollum. “Are we concerned? Of course we are concerned — the sheer amount of money concerns us — but last night’s showing shows money is not everything.”

Foley wins race for Costa Mesa mayor; Marr, Chavez and Reynolds claim other council seats • The Los Angeles Times

By LUKE MONEY November 7, 2018

Democratic challenger Katie Porter has prevailed over Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) in a Southern California congressional district, adding to Republican losses in the nation’s most populous state.

Porter, a law professor and consumer advocate, was declared the narrow winner by the Associated Press on Thursday night in an upscale Orange County district that has been represented by a Republican since 1983.

“I can’t wait to get to work for Orange County and to stand with you 100% of the time!” Porter said in a tweet posted Thursday night that included a video of her standing in front of the U.S. Capitol.

The GOP could face another loss in an area once known as California’s Reagan County. A tally released Thursday night showed Democrat Gil Cisneros taking a narrow lead in the 39th Congressional District over Republican Young Kim in a race to replace the retiring Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.).

Walters’s loss in the 45th Congressional District was the fifth seat in California that has slipped away from Republicans since last week’s midterm elections.

Nationally, Democrats have gained 36 seats on Republicans, with six races yet to be called.

Porter, a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), ran on a liberal platform that included advocacy of a single-payer health-care system, a ban on assault weapons and the overturning of the Republican tax cut.

In a tweet Thursday night, Warren wrote: “I’m proud of all of our incredible incoming Democratic House members, but I’m ESPECIALLY proud of our newest: my former student & research partner @katieporteroc! WOO-HOO!”

Walters was easily reelected in the district just two years ago, winning nearly 59 percent of the vote.

Democratic Insurgents Topple 6 New York Senate Incumbents • NY Times

By Vivian Wang, Sept. 13, 2018

Years of anger at a group of Democratic state senators who had collaborated with Republicans boiled over on Thursday, as primary voters ousted nearly all of them in favor of challengers who had called them traitors and sham progressives.

The losses were not only a resounding upset for the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who outspent their challengers several times over, but also a sign that the progressive fervor sweeping national politics had hobbled New York’s once-mighty Democratic machine, at least on a local level.

The most high-profile casualty was Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the former head of the I.D.C. In that role, he was for years one of Albany’s most powerful players, sharing leadership of the chamber with his counterparts in the Republican conference and participating in the state’s secretive budget negotiations.

[What exactly was the I.D.C.? Read our explainer here.]

But on Thursday, he was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after a campaign in which Ms. Biaggi cornered Mr. Klein into spending more than $2 million, an astonishing sum for a state legislative race. (Cynthia Nixon, in her unsuccessful bid against Mr. Cuomo, spent less.)

“If this doesn’t prove that political currency is people over money, I do not know what does,” Ms. Biaggi, who spent one-tenth as much as Mr. Klein, said at her victory party. “We have now cut the head of the I.D.C. snake.”

Mr. Klein did not appear at his watch party.

Also defeated were five other former I.D.C. members: Senators Tony Avella and Jose Peralta in Queens; Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; Senator Marisol Alcántara in Manhattan; and Senator David Valesky in Syracuse. They fell to John Liu, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson and Rachel May, respectively.

The only former I.D.C. members to survive the primary were Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island, and Senator David Carlucci, of Rockland County.

In another high-profile race, Senator Martin Dilan, who was not part of the I.D.C., was defeated by Julia Salazar, a 27-year-old democratic socialist whose candidacy energized young voters in swaths of gentrifying Brooklyn, despite near-constant controversy in the final weeks of the campaign.

“This is a victory for workers,” Ms. Salazar told supporters at a party in Bushwick.

The I.D.C.’s challengers had offered themselves as “true blue” alternatives to a cast of so-called fake Democrats. Though the I.D.C. disbanded in April— the move was widely viewed as a concession to rising pressure from the party’s left wing — the challengers were not satisfied, insisting that the incumbents had proven they were more interested in self-advancement than progressive change.

In reality, the challengers’ victories alone will have little effect on the fate of progressive legislation in Albany. The true test of that will come in November’s general election, when Democrats seek to flip several Republican-held Senate seats.

But the challengers’ wins sent a resounding symbolic message: The restless, impatient mood that has swelled within the national Democratic Party this year had come for local incumbents, too.

Several of the I.D.C. challengers, as well as Ms. Salazar, had aligned themselves with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old first-time politician who, in a June congressional primary, upset Representative Joseph Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Ms. Biaggi and Ms. Ramos. Ms. Ramos’s district overlaps with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s.

Ms. Salazar in particular drew comparisons to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned vigorously for Ms. Salazar, dispatching her own volunteers to Brooklyn to canvass for her and promoting her to her large Twitter following.

“I think young women are a very visual, but also functional, embodiment of a rebuke of basically New York’s old-boy network,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview at Ms. Biaggi’s party. “And voters get that.”

The I.D.C. challengers also allied themselves with Ms. Nixon’s opposition to Mr. Cuomo, and to Zephyr Teachout’s attorney general bid. The Working Families Party, a progressive minor party and frequent antagonist of the governor, endorsed all the challengers and provided training and staff for their campaigns.
Bill Lipton, the state director of the W.F.P., cast the I.D.C. losses as a major triumph, even in the face of Ms. Nixon’s defeat.

“The center of gravity has shifted, and Andrew Cuomo will face a radically different Albany,” he said.

Still, the divergent fates of the challengers, compared to Ms. Nixon and Ms. Teachout, suggested that the I.D.C. upsets spoke more to the strength of anti-Republican antipathy across the Democratic Party, than of anti-establishment sentiment in its far-left flank.

At a polling site in the Bronx, several voters who said they had chosen Ms. Biaggi also picked Mr. Cuomo over Ms. Nixon, citing the governor’s experience.

That was also true of many of the establishment figures who endorsed the challengers yet backed Mr. Cuomo, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Representative Carolyn Maloney and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson.

Indeed, for allies of the insurgent slate that had challenged the Democratic Party machine, the anti-I.D.C. candidates emerged as the only electoral victors of the night.

Mr. Klein and his fellow former I.D.C. members, by contrast, campaigned as virtual islands. While they nominally won the support of Mr. Cuomo and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate after announcing their dissolution, Mr. Cuomo — who himself has been accused of tacitly supporting the I.D.C. — said little if anything about them on the campaign trail.

The I.D.C. members had faced primary challenges before, and they had long been a target for Democratic activists. But that anger, for years restricted to only the most politically attuned New Yorkers, crested over the past few months, in tandem with the surge of progressive energy nationwide after the 2016 presidential election.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping the 2018 elections with our new politics newsletter.]

Activists began calling the I.D.C. members “Trump Democrats” and sought to educate voters who knew nothing about their senators’ so-called betrayal.

“We didn’t exist a few months ago, and now we’ve raised over $250,000,” said Jim Casteleiro, the campaign manager of No I.D.C. NY, a volunteer group.

Nearly all the voters at the Bronx poll site who backed Ms. Biaggi cited Mr. Klein’s role in the I.D.C. as a motivating factor.

“He’s a good man, but I don’t think it’s time for ushering in another Republican majority,” Peter McHugh, 59, said of Mr. Klein.

Also potentially harmful to Mr. Klein was the barrage of negative headlines in recent months, including an accusation of sexual misconduct against him and a state Board of Elections finding of improper campaign financing.

The challengers’ victories boosted the emerging progressive narrative that the old political model — buying expensive television ads, cozying up to real estate, corralling union support — had been displaced by vigorous grass-roots organizing.

Each challenger outspent his or her opponent on Facebook advertisements, sometimes by a huge margin. Ms. Biaggi and her allies spent between $14,500 and $93,800 on Facebook ads since May, while Mr. Klein and his supporters spent between $2,400 and $14,796.

Ms. Salazar adopted similar tactics against Mr. Dilan, who although he was not a member of the I.D.C. was successfully portrayed as another out-of-touch corporate Democrat. The Democratic Socialists of America, of which Ms. Salazar is a member, deployed its full organizing power for her in Brooklyn.

A string of negative headlines about Ms. Salazar in the final weeks of the campaign — suggesting that she had misled reporters and voters about her immigration status, religious background and socioeconomic status — seemed to have little impact.

Still, Lina Newton, a political-science professor at Hunter College, noted the geographic limitations to the grass-roots organizing that has propelled the insurgent candidates to victory. Ms. Nixon, after all, deployed similar tactics in a statewide race to no avail.

“Personal outreach is much more important on a local level,” Professor Newton said.

And on that local level on Thursday, it was potent. Ms. Biaggi, in an interview, gestured to the sneakers on her feet, calling the previous hours “the most exhausting day in my life.”

For Mr. Klein, she had a simple message: “It was a tough fight. And, I should also say, we should thank him for his service,” she said. “But his time is up.”

Conor Lamb decisively won the health care vote in the Pennsylvania special election • VOX

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Health care was a top issue for 52 percent of voters, and they broke hard toward the Democrat.

By Dylan Scott

Conor Lamb beat Rick Saccone in a stunning upset in the Pennsylvania 18th congressional district’s special election on Tuesday night — and, in an equally striking result, health care beat tax cuts.

This race was decided by less than 1,000 votes, so any number of issues could have been decisive. But health care can make a compelling case that it put Lamb over the top.

Public Policy Polling, the left-leaning outfit, released an exit poll on Wednesday morning from the Pennsylvania race. This is what they found:

  • Health care was a top issue for 52 percent of voters: 15 percent said it was the most important issue for them and another 37 percent said that it was very important.

  • The health care voters broke hard toward Lamb: 64 percent of those who said it was their No. 1 issue backed the Democrat, and 62 percent of the people who said it was very important supported him.

  • Obamacare broke even in a district that Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016: 44 percent of voters supported the law, and 42 percent opposed it.

  • Meanwhile, 52 percent of PA-18 voters said they opposed the Republican plans to repeal the health care law, and only 39 percent approved.

Lamb sounded like a moderate Democrat on health care — he ran ads promising to protect Medicare and health care coverage generally. He said on his website:

The Affordable Care Act has flaws, but it has provided affordable coverage to more than a million Pennsylvanians who were previously uninsured.

Our representatives in Congress should be working together to build on that progress, fix what isn’t working, and make the law better. Instead, Republicans in Congress spent the past year trying to take health insurance away from people with no plan to replace it. Now, costs are likely to go up for many of us, especially those with preexisting conditions. That is unacceptable, and it’s a failure of leadership.

Republican leaders have not even allowed a vote on a bipartisan, common-sense effort to strengthen the ACA and stabilize the markets.

In my conversations over the last few months, Democratic operatives have made it clear they think health care can be a winner for them. Preexisting conditions, in particular, have proven to be a potent message, as well as the mainstays like Medicare. You can also bet that they will make a lot of hay out of any premium spikes we see in the fall, given that experts placed the blame squarely on Trump for the bulk of last year’s increases.

If PA-18 was a test run, it seems like a Democratic message of “Republicans tried to take away your health care, hiked your premiums, and endangered protections for preexisting conditions” can work even in a solid-red district.

The GOP’s counterpunch was supposed to be their tax bill, the signature achievement of the 115th Congress. A month ago, as my colleague Tara Golshan documented, two-thirds of the pro-Saccone TV ads were touting the tax plan.

But they didn’t break through, and Lamb continued to climb in the polls. Saccone was leading by 12 points back in early January; by the beginning of March, Lamb was pulling into the lead.

The tax bill is getting more popular, according to the polling. But it’s still roughly a wash with the public, and it doesn’t appear to have the same power to get people to the voting booth that health care does. It’s not at all clear that Republicans have an alternative plan.

The last-ditch pro-Saccone ads shifted the terrain to immigration, but that doesn’t seem to have worked (and let’s remember the Virginia governor’s race, where the Republican candidate went all-in on a Trump-style attack over immigration and lost in a historic landslide).

We’re still a long way from Election Day, of course. But the policy debate, non-Trump division, is shaping up to be health care versus tax cuts. Right now, you’d rather be running on the former.