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Republican arm for state legislative races expands target map to include 4 states controlled by Democrats

The main Republican committee for state legislative races aims to flip four more state chambers from Democratic control, seizing on widespread frustration with Democrats' handling of the economy, as inflation reached a new 40-year high on Wednesday.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RLSC) has added Maine's House, Nevada's Senate, Oregon's Senate and Washington's House to its top targets this year, according to information first shared with CBS News. Democrats currently hold trifecta control — both chambers and the governor in these states are Democrats — in all four states, and all four chambers being targeted have single-digit margins that Republicans must overcome to take control. 

The committee also included the Colorado state Senate and Minnesota state House on its top target list. 

Republicans already dominate the nation's state legislatures, currently controlling 30, compared to Democrats' 17. Three states have split control. The RLSC aims to expand the GOP's dominance of state chambers even where President Biden won handily in 2020 — Democratic majorities are "anything but safe," said RSLC President Dee Duncan. 

"Americans are looking to their state legislatures to serve as a check and balance on the President's failing economic policies, giving state Republicans an opening to go on offense in places we normally don't contest," said Duncan. Still, he conceded that taking the majorities in these state chambers will be "an uphill battle."

The committee's expansion also comes in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and empower state legislatures to decide whether women will have access to abortions. 

As a result of the decision, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has been setting fundraising records. But the RSLC says its internal polls in these states after the court's decision showed an electorate frustrated with Democratic control and the increased cost of living as the top issue, not abortion access.

And the Republican committee also still holds the fundraising advantage for the second quarter, with $9.8 million raised compared to $6.75 million from the DLCC. The committee did not specify how much it would be spending on its target states but said because they have already outpaced its fundraising at this point in the 2020 election cycle — by $18 million so far — its spending this year "will be more significant." Overall, the committee spent just under $47 million in 2020.

Its partisan poll in Oregon showed a 39% approval rating for Democrats in the state assembly, mirroring President Biden's low approval rating (40%). In 2020, he won the state by more than 16 points. 

"Close elections in Oregon and Washington will remain referendums on Democrats' disastrous handling of inflation and public safety, which are overwhelmingly the top two concerns of voters in those states according to our data," Duncan said when asked how the issue of abortion access could play a role in historically Democratic states like Oregon and Washington.

The DLCC already had Nevada's and Maine's chambers on its list of majorities to defend this year. 

In a statement, DLCC communications vice president Gabrielle Chew said the committee's "first priority" is defending Democratic legislatures and building "durable majorities that can withstand GOP spending."

She pointed out that although it's true that traditionally, the president's party struggles in the midterm elections, "Republicans' extremism and unpopular agenda of banning abortion, allowing dangerous individuals to easily obtain guns and stripping Americans of affordable health care are toxic to swing voters everywhere."  

In all four states, there are competitive races on both the state and federal level. 

Republicans have targeted Democratic incumbent governors Janet Mills of Maine and Steve Sisolak of Nevada, as well as the open seat left in Oregon by term-limited Democratic Governor Kate Brown. 

Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada is also a target for Senate Republicans, while over $4.54 million has been spent on advertising by outside Republicans to defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier in Washington's 8th District.

Eight of congressional districts from the four states are considered competitive, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report.  

More than $11 million has been spent on advertisements by Republicans in Nevada's gubernatorial race since the June 14 primary, with $9 million of that coming from the Republican Governors Association according to data from AdImpact. 

Jesus Marquez, a Republican consultant in Nevada who is advising Senate nominee Adam Laxalt, said there is still frustration with Democratic state legislators and the governor for shutdowns due to COVID-19. 

"They have destroyed the economy in the state by shutting it down, and keeping it shut down for so long. That hurt the Latino community tremendously," he said. 

Washington Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski doubts Republicans have a shot at flipping a legislative chamber in her state and scoffed at the Republicans' argument on the economy.

"I wouldn't pick Washington State as the state to go after that, in that case. Washington state still remains the number one state in the country to do business. It's a terrific environment in that way," she said. "They're just kind of throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick."

She has spoken with state party chairs in New Mexico and Colorado where Republicans are doing "similar things in districts that are not particularly competitive." She pointed to over $100,000 Republicans are spending in Washington's 45th Senate District, represented by Democratic Deputy Majority Leader Manka Dhingra.

"That is a 75%-plus Biden district. If you were going to go after somebody, I don't know why you would go after Manka Dhingra and sending money in those different places and spaces," she said. 

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