After their big wins in Virginia last week, Democrats are signaling they will use the strategy adopted there as a model for down-ballot races in 2024.
In a memo to top donors shared first with TIME, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on state legislative races, credits its early focus on abortion rights in Virginia as a critical factor in helping the party retain control of the State Senate and flip the State House, thwarting a high-profile effort by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to ban abortion in most cases after 15 weeks in the state. The memo signals that the committee plans to position state-level races next year as part of a national fight to preserve Americans’ freedoms.
“Throughout the year, the DLCC sounded the alarm on the national stage about the stakes of the election and what a Republican trifecta would mean for Virginia,” Heather Williams, the DLCC’s interim president, writes in the memo. “Republican control of the General Assembly and an unchecked GOP trifecta would have led to an abortion ban and cut off the last point of access for the entire South.”
The memo highlights the millions of dollars Youngkin’s super PAC spent, and how Democrats successfully countered that with fundraising of their own. By mid-October, the DLCC had invested $2.2 million in Virginia, the most the committee had ever invested directly in the state, William writes.
Ahead of Election Day 2023, Youngkin encouraged his party’s candidates to back a limit on abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother—a proposal that was widely viewed as a model for Republicans nationally to talk about abortion if it worked with Virginia’s voters. While Youngkin insisted his attention was squarely focused on Virginia in the runup to the election, many considered him a potential presidential contender, especially as other alternatives to former President Donald Trump appear to be foundering. After last week’s losses in Virginia, interest in Youngkin as a 2024 candidate fell sharply.
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“While national pundits focused on Governor Youngkin and his presidential ambitions, we made one thing abundantly clear: this election was about state power and the future, not just for Virginia, but for the direction of the whole country,” Williams writes.
As the presidential race, and the unpopularity of each party’s frontrunner, sucks up much of the air in politics, the memo emphasizes the importance of state legislative seats. Wins at that level could provide a key bulwark for Democrats against right-wing legislation, especially if President Joe Biden fails to win reelection in what is expected to be a close race.
“Regardless of what happens at the top of the ticket, 2024 will be the year of the states,” Williams writes.
In addition to abortion rights, the DLCC’s memo states that the committee marshaled attention to Virginia by getting the country to pay attention to how Tuesday’s results would impact voting rights, LGBTQ+ people, and climate change. Those issues are likely to continue to play a role in next year’s elections, when the DLCC aims to flip both chambers of the Arizona and New Hampshire legislatures, as well as the Pennsylvania state Senate. Earlier this year, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which leads efforts to elect Republicans in state legislatures, identified its top targets for chambers to flip in 2024 as Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
The DLCC also plans to invest in Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin next year. The status of abortion rights in several of those states is currently murky pending action from the courts.
“Democrats are recognizing that alongside important federal races, we must also compete and win power in the states,” Williams writes. “Republicans built an advantage in the last decade but now Democrats are fighting back and shifting the balance of power.”