Eric H. Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney general, is coming to Virginia to support Democrats trying to hold on to the governor’s mansion, the first stop for his new national campaign to reverse years of Democratic losses on the state level by reshaping legislative maps that have favored Republicans.
Holder will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic Party of Virginia’s annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner on June 17, four days after voters cast their ballots in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
He will be speaking as chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), formed last year to undo what it calls partisan gerrymandering by Republicans, who took control of 26 state legislatures in the tea party wave of 2010. The group is coordinating with Democratic campaign groups to fund gubernatorial candidates who would veto any new legislative map that appears to be gerrymandered. The group is also funding legal challenges to legislative maps and supporting ballot initiatives to create independent redistricting commissions.
Former president Barack Obama has said supporting the group’s efforts would be one of his top priorities after leaving office.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states electing a new governor in 2017, while governors are on the ballots of 36 states in 2018. The next Virginia governor will have sway over the restructuring of congressional districts, where Republicans hold seven of 11 seats, despite Democrats having won all statewide offices in recent years.
“This November’s elections in Virginia are a top priority for Democrats and give us the opportunity to undo Republican gerrymandering and have a legislature and Congress that truly represent the views of the people,” Holder said in a statement.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), barred from seeking reelection, helped create NDRC and is raising money for the group.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. House member Tom Perriello are competing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Virginia. The NDRC says it will support the Democratic primary’s winner.
“What we hope to do is make sure Democrats all over the country understand the significance of the Virginia governor’s race and hope to elevate the significance of winning the race,” NDRC Executive Director Kelly Ward said in an interview. “We want to play a big and heavy role in the resources that it’s going to take to win the Virginia governor’s race.”
She would not say how much money the group will spend. Under IRS rules, it can raise unlimited contributions but cannot coordinate with a campaign. The most recent financial disclosure shows it raised $65,000 before formally launching in January and expanded its fundraising efforts.
The NDRC’s general counsel also argued a case to challenge Virginia’s state legislative maps, which the U.S. Supreme Court map has ordered a lower court to re-examine for signs of racial bias. In the House, where Republicans were in charge when the legislative districts were redrawn after the 2010 Census, Democrats are outnumbered 66 to 34. In the Senate, where Democrats were in control at the time of reapportionment, the GOP has a much slimmer advantage of 21 to 19.
Last year, a federal court ordered one of the state’s congressional districts redrawn after deciding that the existing map illegally packed African American voters into a district. Democrats picked up an additional seat in Congress after that ruling.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Virginia is ramping up its coordinated campaign for the general election, when all 100 House of Delegates seats and all statewide offices are on the ballot.
A spokeswoman for the party said that McAuliffe transferred $100,000 from his political action committee this week to support its organizing and data-sharing efforts. The party hired Lauren Brainerd, a former field director in Virginia who most recently led the coordinated campaign for Hillary Clinton in Florida, to lead the coordinated campaign and rebuild a statewide organizing program.
The original version of this story mistakenly implied that the NDRC is funding legal challenges to ballot initiatives that would create independent redistricting commissions. The story has been clarified.