Former President Obama and other top Democrats are focusing efforts on state-level races and ending the reconfiguring of voting districts through the politically-laden process known as gerrymandering — a combined effort to end “Trump-ism” and help their party regain control of Congress and legislatures across the country.
Obama indicated before leaving the White House last fall that his short-term, post-presidency focus will be on General Assembly races and redistricting after the 2020 Census.
And 2016 presidential candidate former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has become the most recent high-profile Democrat to take up the cause.
“America needs non-partisan redistricting commissions,” O’Malley said at Boston College Law School, where he’s now a visiting professor. “This simple reform … must become the new norm of American democracy. … How can we expect people to vote if their voice has been carved into irrelevance by a political map ahead of time?”
An early test for Democrats trying to win state-level races and stopping the Trump wave arrives this weekend.
Delaware is holding a special election for an open state Senate seat that will decided whether Democrats keep their roughly 40-year hold on the chamber.
“If we lose, a new Republican majority will take power and rubber-stamp every single one of Trump’s hateful policies,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a recent fundraising letter. “They’ll grind all our progress to a halt.”
Voting districts are redrawn after a federal Census to reflect the changes in population and other demographic.
Much of the redistricting across the country is done by the political party that controls the state legislature.
However, critics argue the process, known as gerrymandering, has run amok, with the majority party drawing districts in crazy-quilt patterns to help protect incumbents and their party win more races.
“There’s one district in Virginia where you have to take a boat on the James River to get to another part,” Jared Leopold, spokesman for the Democratic National Redistricting Committee, told Fox News.
The tax-exempt group is leading Washington Democrats’ major effort to erase the majorities Republicans have in Congress and statehouses across the country.
The Republicans wave election of 2010 handed them the House majority and control of 20 additional state House and Senate chambers, giving the party broad authority in redrawing district maps after the Census that year.
Twenty-three legislatures are primarily responsible for that task. And the situation has only helped Republicans retain their seats and add to 2010 gains.
Leopold cited three main objectives: help Democrats win more races in the next few election cycles to “put them in a better situation before redistricting in 2020,” embark on legal efforts to “undo some of the more egregious redistricting” after the 2010 Census and push ballot initiatives that will lead to “fair maps.”
He described the NDRC as a “super group” that brings together the efforts of the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC.
The group’s chairman is former Attorney General Eric Holder, whose support, along with Obama’s, will give the group bonda fides and fundraising clout.
“We heard a lot in this past election about rigged systems,” Holder said last month in announcing the group’s start. “But I want to say the biggest rigged system in America is gerrymandering.”
However, the group is not championing non-partisan redistricting commissions, as O’Malley and others are.
O’Malley, who is continuing efforts to lead the party’s progressive wing, has also made clear that his call to end gerrymander speaks directly to what he fears is a rising, anti-immigrant sentiment and other policies associated with Republican President Trump.
“I want to speak with you today about the immediate challenges facing our nation,” said O’Malley, who also equates Trump’s beliefs and polices to fascism. “We must frame a principled opposition to Trump-ism.”
Beyond the Delaware contest, the real bellwether races will start next year in Virginia, North Carolina and New Jersey.
Virginia, a battleground state that has voted Democrat the past three presidential elections, next year is having state House races and a gubernatorial contest to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The governor’s race already has heavyweights from both parties including Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello. The Republican slate includes Corey Stewart, an immigration hawk and former Trump campaigner, and Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who nearly upset Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carolyn Fiddler told Fox News that the Democrats’ recent efforts are a “smart refocus of efforts,” more than a reckoning and that related fundraising has been “astronomical.”
She also said Trump’s victory has indeed sparked a lot of interest — from potential canvassers to candidates. “But it has also crystalized some social and political priorities for people in ways they had not before.”