The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito Sunday chronicled how the millions Eric Holder spent in state legislative races in 2020 in an effort to gain the power necessary for Democrats to gerrymander a majority in the House of Representatives for the next decade was a colossal failure. Zito notes that state Republicans exceeded expectations last cycle, beating back over $500 million in Democrat state spending to defend 59 legislative chambers and flip two more in New Hampshire. The piece, which was published shortly after the new Census data confirmed that Republicans are in a strong position going into redistricting, argues that the reason for the Holder’s failures was that state Democrats “often got swept up in a national Democratic message that was very far removed from the day-to-day concerns of voters.”
How Eric Holder failed
May 9, 2021
Eric Holder had it all: money, power, prestige, and a new project that promised to deliver Democrats power to control the redistricting process. The media played their part as well, hyping up the former Obama-era attorney general’s project with an abundance of coverage.
Holder, backed by Barack Obama himself, launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee just days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Calling it a strategy to invest in down-ballot Democrat candidates, Holder said his goal was to influence the 2020 redistricting legislation.
To say that it failed to meet expectations would be an understatement.
When Holder announced the program in 2017, it marked the first time in over a decade that Washington-based Democrats acknowledged how much power their party had lost in the redistricting process in state legislative chambers. Their focus had been on national races. They had been ignoring the very bench that had launched Obama’s career.
There was plenty of interest in such an effort. Within months, Holder managed to raise raised over $10 million. By the start of 2020, he had raised over $50 million. Then, during the election, he targeted 13 states to flip legislative chambers and put his organization to work behind more than 250 state-level candidates. The press and pollsters were predicting that the gains Democrats had made down the ballot in 2018, in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly and in the Texas state House, meant a blue wave was coming down the ballot in states such as Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina as well.
Here in Pennsylvania, much ink was expended on the Democrats’ chances of flipping both houses of the state Legislature. It wasn’t out of the question, they speculated. After all, Joe Biden was leading Trump by even percentage points in the late October Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll. This was billed as the Democrats’ best chance in years.
What actually happened? None of that, certainly. In Pennsylvania, Republicans not only expanded their majority in the House and defeated the House Democratic leader, but they also retained control of the state Senate. Similarly, Republicans held their own across the country, not losing even a single legislative chamber and picking up two in New Hampshire.
None of the chaos would be happening for Democrats if Holder had been successful. So why wasn’t he? The money was there, the influence was there, and the press were there, so what happened?
The answer is that all of the money, power, and influence was circulated by the same set of people who all share the same worldview. They never once considered that the people they were trying to buy, influence, and push to their side didn’t share that worldview or their values.
These are the people who tend to care about their schools, roads and bridges, and local community centers. The candidate who speaks to them on those issues will win. This is the case with state Sen. Devlin Robinson, who challenged incumbent Democratic Sen. Pam Iovino and won a suburban seat that is located within Lamb’s district.
Democratic down-ballot candidates like Iovino often got swept up in a national Democratic message that was very far removed from the day-to-day concerns of voters.
In short, what Holder missed is pretty simple. Politics is local. When people try to make it about their cause rather than voters’ concerns, they find themselves out of step, no matter who is behind them, no matter how much money they have, no matter how much backing they get from the cultural curators.