WASHINGTON - Labor unions, corporations and wealthy individuals are preparing to break spending records to influence the November elections. But more than in recent years, they will be focusing on races for governor and state legislatures.
Their goal is to win control of state governments ahead of the state-by-state process for redrawing congressional districts after the 2010 census.
Each party says that winning key statehouse campaigns would give it the power to draw district lines that could cause 20 to 25 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to change hands. There are 253 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House now, along with a handful of vacancies. Voters in 37 states will elect governors this fall, the highest number of gubernatorial races ever in one year.
The Republican Governors Association raised $30 million last year, and its Democratic counterpart raised $23 million—a record in both cases—by convincing donors of the 2010 gubernatorial elections' importance to redistricting. Figures for the current year's fund raising aren't yet available.
The Republican party's main campaign group focusing on statehouses, the Republican State Leadership Committee, is aiming to raise $40 million this year, an effort led by Edward Gillespie, the former party chairman and adviser to President George W. Bush. The Democrats' main group has announced a $20 million campaign. Together, those groups and the governors' associations are planning to spend more than $170 million on the elections this year. That is about 70 percent more than they spent in 2006, the last time a similarly large number of governors' races were on the ballot.
Separately, labor unions say they will devote an increasing amount of resources to state-level races, partly because governors are making hard layoff decisions that concern unionized state workers. But redistricting is another reason for labor's focus on the states.
"That's where all the marbles are," said Larry Scanlon, the political director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union has donated $2.3 million to the Democratic Governors Association, becoming the largest contributor to the group in the current election cycle.