National Review: GOP’s Statehouse Victories Set Up Party for Strong 2022, Strategists Say

WASHINGTON, D.C — The National Review this morning detailed how the historic victories the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) achieved in 2020 set the Republican Party up for success in 2022 and beyond. As former Republican Governors Association executive director Phil Cox put it, “RSLC’s work in particular in 2020 could be the deciding factor in Republicans’ taking control of the House in 2022.”

Additional highlights from the piece can be found below.

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GOP’s Statehouse Victories Set Up Party for Strong 2022, Strategists Sa
Brittany Bernstein
National Review
June 1, 2021

As the fight for party control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections gears up, Republican strategists say the GOP is well-positioned to notch big wins in the next cycle and beyond thanks to oft-overlooked state-level victories last year.

Republicans lost control of the House in 2018 for the first time in eight years but would need a net gain of just five seats in 2022 to reclaim the majority after a surprisingly successful 2020.

The party’s efforts will likely be helped by historical tradition — which says that the party that controls the White House typically loses roughly 25 House seats in the midterm — and by redistricting: Republicans will control the redistricting of 43 percent of House seats, while Democrats control the redistricting of just 17 percent of seats.

While the bigger national races tend to overshadow state-level battles, Republicans were enormously successful in the states in 2020: They were able to successfully defend each of the 59 Republican-held legislative majorities, flip two additional chambers in New Hampshire, and add 148 new legislative seats across the country.

Strategists say the wins are, in large part, thanks to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC)’s “Right Lines 2020” campaign, which pumped resources into states that are critical to the redistricting fight in 2021. The Republican majorities will give the GOP control of the redistricting of 187 congressional seats in the wake of the 2020 Census, compared to Democrats’ 75 seats.

Phil Cox, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association and a senior party strategist, said committees like RSLC have “led the way in showing donors how state wins can impact congressional or national elections.”

“For a long time, states were sort of an afterthought,” Cox said in a recent interview with National Review. “I think RSLC’s work in particular in 2020 could be the deciding factor in Republicans’ taking control of the House in 2022.”

He said the wins serve as a reminder to the national party not to forget about the states, as “investments in committees like RSLC can pay long-term dividends at the federal level, as well as the state level.”

In Texas, which will gain two congressional seats after the 2020 census, the RSLC spent more than $9.6 million as part of its Right Lines campaign. Karl Rove, longtime political consultant and former top George W. Bush aide, told National Review that if the party had lost control of the Texas House of Representatives, Democrats would have had the upper hand in the redistricting.

“If we’d lost control of the Texas House, the Democrats could have blocked redistricting in the legislature, thrown it to a friendly federal liberal judge and basically taken it out of the hands of the legislature and into the hands of a judge with a bunch of liberal progressive groups negotiating with the judge on what the map was going to look like,” Rove said.

He adds that the party was able to avoid similar fates in other states where the RSLC focused its efforts, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, Kansas, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Ohio. Republicans currently hold majorities in 61 of 99 state legislative chambers, according to the RSLC.

“We would not have won a number of these races without RSLC’s help, which was not only money but good, sound advice and counseling,” Rove said.

Rove said the winning strategy was to approach each race as an individual contest with no “cookie-cutter mold.”

“One thing that RSLC allowed us to do and helped emphasize was that it was not just about digging your opponent and it certainly wasn’t about tying it just to the national ticket — you had to do a little bit of that and you had to do a little bit, obviously, of digging your opponent — but you also had to develop a clear image of what it is that you stood for and what you wanted to do,” he said.

He added that this was a “resource battle” because, given a choice between running an ad that takes down your opponent or telling people what you want to do, the tendency is to do the former. However, the RSLC provided the party with resources to do both.

Rove noted in an essay for the Wall Street Journal shortly after the election that Texas state house Republicans largely ran on their records: they drew attention to increases in teacher pay and school funding, protections for preexisting conditions and an end to surprise medical billing, property-tax reform, mandatory jail time for human and sex trafficking, and a state constitutional amendment to ban a state income tax.

Austin Chambers, who served as RSLC’s president in 2020, said it was “great candidates who ran great campaigns and stayed focused on local issues” that helped achieve Republican wins, though he added that they also “got a lot of help from the Democrats.”

“The Democrats once again made the same mistake that they’ve made in the past where they tried to run everything out of Washington and they tried to match-analyze these local campaigns to make it all about Donald Trump and make it all about Washington,” he said.

He noted that Republican candidates across the country successfully campaigned on issues that mattered to local voters including reopening the economy and improving the local schools.

“We were seeing in the polling data — and it’s just common sense — that no matter who you are, whether you’re the biggest Trump supporter or the biggest never-Trumper, no one wants their state capitol or their neighborhood or their community to look anything like Washington, D.C.”

“What we saw was almost an immediate check and balance on the ballot, where we had districts that were voting for Joe Biden at the top of the ticket but then coming back and voting Republican ballot ticket.”

Looking forward to 2022 and 2024, Chambers says Republicans must remember that in Washington, they have to be the party that is for good programs and good ideas.

“We can’t just be a party that’s against something,” he said. “I believe we’re going to be a permanent majority governing party because that’s what we are in the states and Washington can look to the states for good policy ideas, but also can look to the states for how to win elections as Republicans.”

He added that the GOP is in “prime position” to control redistricting, which will give Republicans an advantage in taking back the House and protecting state majorities across the country.

“I think you’re going to see Republicans make great gains in 2022, both at the federal level and at the state level, and build on the success that we had in 2020,” he said.

Republican successes on the state level have also allowed red states to enact “commonsense” policies that have attracted residents from blue states who are sick of high taxes and poor job prospects, Chambers said. The population shifts have led to a six-vote swing in Electoral College votes allocated to states, following the 2020 Census, that have historically voted Republican in presidential elections.

A number of states that voted for President Biden in 2020, including California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, will lose one vote each, while some states that voted for Trump will pick up votes: Florida, North Carolina, and Montana will gain one vote each, and Texas picked up two votes. Only two states that voted for Trump — West Virginia and Ohio — lost a vote, while only two states that voted for Biden — Oregon and Colorado — will gain a vote.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that California lost a seat in the Congress for the first time since it joined the union in 1850,” Rove said. “It’s because the policies of the Democratic governor have made it a less attractive place to live, to bring up a family or to run your enterprise and the job opportunities are a heck of a lot better than they are in most, if not all of California.”

Politico reported that, in light of the shift, if each state voted the same way in 2024 as it did in 2020, Biden would win three fewer Electoral College votes, while the Republican nominee would win three more.