STEP ONE: Assess States & Identify Chambers
Every two years, we reassess each state legislative chamber across the country and develop a list of chambers meeting one of the three categories in the portfolio that comprises our political strategy portfolio categories: blue flips, blue holds, and blue inroads. In choosing states, we focus on democracy and Presidential battlegrounds, where our support for state legislative candidates will increase turnout in key races up and down the ticket. Read more about our 2023-2024 States.
STEP TWO: Identify Potential Seats In Chamber
Second, we assess the particular composition of each identified chamber, generating a list of specific districts within each chamber that meet certain general criteria around flippability or incumbent fragility.
At this step, we rely on publicly available historical voting, voter registration records for each district, and current Census information, as well as data from our allied organizations including Daily Kos and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
We analyze how voters in the district have voted at the local, state, and federal levels over the past 2-3 election cycles, as well as voter registration levels within the district and opportunities to expand the electorate through voter registration efforts. We also consider demographic shifts and trends in the district based on current Census data, which may provide new opportunities or challenges for Democratic candidates.
STEP THREE: Deeper Data Dive Into Specific Districts
Third, we take a deeper dive into each of those districts. This involves assessing a variety of factors, including:
- The Partisan Voting Index and Democratic Performance Index scores for the district;
- “Nested” opportunities where we can force-multiply our impact on key statewide; elections (Senate, Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State), along with competitive Congressional or other state legislative districts;
- Whether the incumbent is term-limited or has declined to run for re-election, as an open seat is easier to flip than taking out an incumbent;
- How much money candidates have raised for the seat over prior cycles to understand the likely campaign budget requirements for the candidate and for our volunteer community to make a measurable fundraising impact; and
- For seats held by Republican incumbents, we also assess factors including the strength of the incumbent and his or her prior voting record as a legislator.
STEP FOUR: Stakeholder Input and Refinement of Targets
Fourth, we discuss our preliminary list of chambers and districts with local and national stakeholders. This step helps us to see what numbers can’t tell us; for example, a seat that may look eminently flippable may actually be held by a moderate and well-liked Republican. We may still end up pursuing this seat for a variety of reasons, but this kind of local knowledge is critical for our ability to assess opportunities.
Our partners in target states include local grassroots electoral and issue-based advocacy groups, movement and powerbuilding organizations, community leaders, our local Sister District teams, partners in-state who recruit and train candidates, Democratic party and chamber caucus staff, and prior and current legislators and candidates.
We also discuss our potential targets with national partners including academic researchers and other state and issue-area experts, as well as national electoral and advocacy organizations. We refine our preliminary target list based on these conversations and insights.
STEP FIVE: Candidate Assessment
Fifth, we assess candidate quality in the seats we have identified as potential targets. We evaluate candidates based on a number of factors, including their community leadership history, public positions taken on policy issues included in our platform (see below), how well they reflect their district, the local and broader coalitions of support they have built, campaign staff quality, and the campaign’s interest in our support.
We support Democratic candidates from all backgrounds, and are particularly proud to prioritize supporting women, candidates of color, LGBTQ+ folks, candidates from nontraditional backgrounds, and others from diverse communities and backgrounds to build a democracy that reflects the full chorus of American voices.
This step of the process involves candidates’ completion of an endorsement questionnaire and interview by Sister District staff with the candidate and their campaign staff. And to ensure that our candidates’ values match those of our volunteer community, we require all endorsed candidates to agree with these statements, which form a set of policy planks with which we believe all Democrats should agree:
- We must protect and expand the legal right to abortion, dismantle barriers to reproductive health services, and pursue policies that create the conditions to achieve reproductive justice, where all people can choose to have a child, not have a child, and parent with dignity.
- We must protect and expand our social safety net, not dismantle it.
- We must pursue common-sense gun safety policies, consistent with the Second Amendment and local community standards, which vary from community to community.
- Climate change is real and we must protect our environment.
- We must protect all members of our diverse community, and ensure that everyone, including the most vulnerable, is treated with fairness, justice, and equality.
- We must ensure that districts are drawn fairly and protect and expand the right to vote, so that everyone can have a voice in public policies that affect our lives.
The timing of this step depends on candidate filing deadlines. Filing deadlines occur at different times in different states. Some states have early deadlines (e.g., Pennsylvania); other states have much later deadlines (e.g., Wisconsin). Where we can, we have and will continue to talk with candidates to begin to get to know them early in the cycle. But generally, we wait to reach out to candidates until somewhat close to the filing deadline so we can begin the endorsement process with a full view of the field.
In general, we do not get involved in Democratic primaries. This means that in districts where more than one Democrat has filed to run, we generally wait until after the primary to move forward with an endorsement. However, in districts where only one Democrat has announced their candidacy, we can finalize our candidate assessment and endorse shortly after the filing deadline.
There are limited exceptions to the rule that we will not get involved in primaries; for example, we may endorse an unopposed incumbent Democrat if the state’s primary is extremely late, and we need to endorse earlier in order to have a meaningful impact in the race. Under these circumstances, we would only move forward with endorsement with the guidance of our partners and local stakeholders.
STEP SIX: Matching Teams and Affiliates to Races
Our biggest strength as an organization is our people. Our groups of creative, tenacious volunteers across the country work tirelessly to help their candidates win, and we take this sixth step of our process—“sistering” candidates with teams and affiliates—very seriously. We are committed to finding good homes for both our volunteers and our candidates so that they can develop meaningful relationships. These relationships help us all expand what we think of as our own backyard to create deep, sustained engagement that results in more wins.
At the end of each year, we engage in an end-of-year debrief and prospective planning process with our teams. During this process, we identify each team’s geographic priorities and assess their capacity for the next cycle.
Our political and organizing staff work in close collaboration to ensure that we are maximizing support to our candidates, and load-balancing across our national capacity. Our aim is to provide an equitable amount of support to each candidate, understanding that every race is different—some may be heavily exurban and thus hard to canvass, making phonebanking more important; others may be extremely expensive because of unlimited contribution rules in a state. We take all of these types of factors into consideration as we make our pairings.
STEP SEVEN: Announcing Our Endorsements
Once we have assessed the candidate(s), the filing deadlines and/or contested primaries have passed, and we have found a good match for a candidate among our Sister District team community, we announce our endorsements.
This will occur at different times throughout the year, given the variation in filing deadlines and candidate recruitment landscape in the states we have identified for potential inclusion in our portfolio.
Each year, we announce our support for candidates in waves; typically, our first wave is announced in late spring, with one or more additional waves in the summer. Special election endorsements occur when strategically appropriate, and can be announced at any time throughout the year.