Despite a blue wave that washed through the House of Representatives, Democrats felt a few high-profile losses Tuesday.
In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams called on some serious star power in the form of media magnate Oprah Winfrey. Georgian fundraising, too, was record-setting. Abrams is hoping for a runoff, but those aren’t typically where Democratic dreams are made in Georgia.
Meanwhile, Michigan served up a stunning rebuke of President Trump. As a state that narrowly supported Trump in 2016, the 2018 midterms swept Democrats into every statewide office and carried three progressive proposals into law. By comparison, Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer‘s win was a bargain at only $12.1 million.
For the price of one Beto defeat, Democrats could’ve essentially bought ten Evers victories.
The reason for this is simple: Democrats’ message is working in the Midwest. From Michigan and Wisconsin’s rejections of Republican ideology, to Ohio’s white working class souring on Trump’s message, the Great Lakes region is ripe for Democratic advances.
And despite losses in Tennessee, Missouri and Indiana, it isn’t clear that progressive ideology is the culprit. Those states all fielded candidates that ran far to the right — so far that in the case of Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), it was said that it was impossible to tell which candidate was the Republican.
But instead of putting money and candidates into the Midwest, national Democrats inexplicably made expensive moves into Republican strongholds like Texas and Georgia. While O’Rourke and Abrams might tempt Democrats to run to the center, most of the ones that did lost big on Tuesday. Instead, the lesson ought to be to spend their money a bit more wisely.
That isn’t to say Abrams or O’Rourke were poor candidates or didn’t outperform what any Democrat could be expected to do in their states. But it is to say that the power of O’Rourke was in his coat-tails.
Consider that Republicans still control 60 percent of state legislatures, even after numerous flips carried out Tuesday. Those races are becoming less competitive every election, as well.
Look again at Michigan. A state legislative seat was a pick-up by Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) who had just under a quarter million on hand in September, while Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) spent more than twice that on a single ad buy that month in a state that elected a Republican senator once in the past forty years.
Obviously statewide races are more expensive, but that’s the point. State legislatures are extremely powerful for how affordable they are. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, state legislatures will be the bodies that navigate a woman’s right to choice. States are also taking up the defense of net neutrality in the wake of its repeal.
And, returning to Michigan, it was a state legislature that used a parliamentary loophole to prevent voters from raising the minimum age.
If Democrats fight a little smarter, they might actually get the bang for their buck that Republicans typically do.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.