JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While the presidential campaign commands the public’s attention, political parties and financial contributors are quietly preparing for another less glitzy yet significant set of elections a year from now – battles to determine control of dozens of state legislative chambers.

National Republican and Democratic groups have set record-high fundraising goals as they try to influence the outcome of 2016 state legislative races. Independent political committees appear likely to join the fray.

With Congress frequently paralyzed by partisanship, legislative elections are gaining attention because states are the ones pushing change. In recent years, state legislatures have been addressing gun control, infrastructure, education standards, renewable energy, marijuana and transgender rights.

The races also are critical to political parties because legislatures in most states are responsible for drawing the boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. The party in charge can help ensure favorable districts – and thus potentially remain in power – for a decade to come.

In the 2012 elections, for example, Democratic candidates for the U.S. House received about 1.4 million more votes than their Republican opponents, yet the Republicans won a 33-seat majority in that chamber, partly because Republican-dominated state legislatures drew political maps to favor their party.

While the next round of redistricting in 2021 may seem far away, it often takes several elections for parties to build a majority or chip away at one.

That’s why some Democrats have described next year’s state legislative elections as vital if they are to begin reversing recent Republican gains. Republicans control 69 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers, their most ever.

“We are definitely looking at all of this in a multicycle way,” said Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple. “That’s something that Democrats – not just in Missouri, but nationally – have not been particularly very good at historically.”

The Democrats’ attempt to roll back Republican supermajorities in the Missouri Legislature is expected to be countered by heavy Republican spending, after both parties combined to spend more than $6 million on legislative races two years ago.

Winning just a handful of seats, Temple said, can make a difference in the redistricting process and, ultimately, in enacting or blocking new laws.

Nationally, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee hopes to raise $20 million for the 2016 state legislative races, which would set a record for the group. An additional $20 million is expected to be spent by an affiliated super political action committee, Advantage 2020, which is focused on gaining Democratic state legislative majorities ahead of the next round of redistricting.

The rival Republican State Leadership Committee has its own record fundraising goal of $40 million.

The Republican and Democratic groups each are targeting more than two dozen state legislative chambers, including 19 listed as priorities by both parties.

Republicans will be trying to flip Democratic-led House chambers in Colorado, Kentucky and Washington as well as Senate chambers in Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. Democrats will be trying to reverse Republican control of 13 chambers, including one-seat Senate margins in such states as Colorado, Nevada and Washington.

In Illinois and Massachusetts, Republicans are hoping to cut into Democratic supermajorities that can override the vetoes of Republican governors.

The Democrats’ Advantage 2020 PAC is hoping to chip away at Republican legislative majorities in a half-dozen states won at least once by President Barack Obama – Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The parties’ national efforts will be supplemented by state political parties and like-minded groups.

Independent expenditures on state legislative races have been on the rise since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which allowed unions and corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns.


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