Pres. Obama Just Did Something Historic in the Other Political Races We Should Be Talking About

October 24th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

The national political conversation usually focuses on the dramatic presidential race between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

However, President Barack Obama is turning his attention toward political offices that might have an even greater impact on the average American's life: state legislatures.

Just weeks before Americans head to the polls, Obama has endorsed 150 state candidates spanning 20 states, in the form of taped robocalls, social media posts, and recorded TV and radio ads. Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere called Obama's investment in down-ballot races "unprecedented" for a sitting U.S. President.

This is the first year that Obama has endorsed any state level candidates.

Why is Obama so focused on state legislatures?

State legislatures have a big impact on the people in those states. Voting procedures, abortion rights, gun control laws, and other important issues have increasingly been decided on the state level rather than in federal courts, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Also, state legislatures and governors across the country will draw new boundaries for voting districts in 2020, which happens at least every 10 years, usually after the U.S. Census. Redistricting can be an opportunity for gerrymandering, a term that describes intentionally shaping a voting district to lean toward a particular political party. For example, district lines can be redrawn to limit the electoral power of minority voters.

When gerrymandering is successful, it directly affects who is elected to the United States Congress.

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The process for redistricting is different in every state, but much of it is partisan. Incumbents have an incentive to draw district lines that will keep them in office, so the politicians holding office in 2020 could greatly affect the following elections. Obama's move to stack Democrats in state legislatures now is an attempt to prevent Republican gerrymandering from pushing Democrats out of higher offices later.

Obama is also handing out endorsements to candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House. So far, he's endorsed Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), California Atty. Kamala Harris, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) at the Senate level and Bryan Caforio (D-Calif.), former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, and Colleen Deacon, (D-NY) a former aid to New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, for House seats.

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