Democrats Make Final Push Before Midterms
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is the final push, the last weekend before a midterm election that could see a power shift in Washington, And Both parties are making their last pitches to voters. New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is responsible for leading that messaging for the Democrats. He chairs the Democratic Congressional strategy group, or the DCCC, which recruits candidates, raises funds and organizes races. When we talked yesterday, I asked him how much of Tuesday's election is about President Trump as Democrats try to pull the House back from Republican control.
BEN RAY LUJAN: You might be surprised by this, Rachel, but our candidates are not talking about the president very much. You know, to be honest with you, no one's going to talk about Donald Trump more than Donald Trump. And he will remind the American people of every investigation that he is the subject of, of every ugly, disgusting tweet that he engages in. So look, we don't need to talk about him much. What our candidates are talking about are the economic challenges that the American people are facing.
MARTIN: But I have to tell you - myself, my colleagues, we've been around the country, and we've heard people talk about the economy and they're feeling pretty good. And you ask them, are you better off than you were a couple years ago? And even if they don't say unequivocally yes, they say, maybe not necessarily, but I feel like Donald Trump is making change and eventually it'll get better. How do you make the case to those voters?
LUJAN: What voters have told us is that while they see the economy doing better that they know that we had to come out of the greatest recession that America had experienced back in 2008 going into 2009. And they credit President Obama just as much as anyone else for doing everything we could to bring the country out of that Great Recession. And so again, I just don't think our Republican colleagues have the strong argument to make that they are purporting to on this subject, especially when they're suggesting that Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid - these safety net programs - should be gutted to pay for their tax scam, as well.
The American people have been clear to me when they say that their wages and salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. And we need a strong agenda that's built around the people. When people ask Democrats, what do we stand for? It's very clear. We stand for the people. And that's why we're moving a strong agenda forward.
MARTIN: Where are Democrats vulnerable in these elections?
LUJAN: Well, if you're asking what keeps me up at night and where, you know, the vulnerabilities exist, remember this. We're running in gerrymandered districts across America. President Trump won 70 percent of the districts that we are running in. When you look at our battlefield, which is 111-deep. So that's what concerns me very much.
Also what we're seeing with the influx of outside super PAC money and, really, some of the most racist ads that we have seen run in congressional districts in the history of American politics. And so those are things that concern me as we close this out.
MARTIN: So that was my conversation with the chair of the Democratic congressional strategy group, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. We're joined now in studio by Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons to talk more about the Democrats' closing argument. Jamal, thanks for coming in.
JAMAL SIMMONS: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So we just heard Representative Lujan say Trump is not the backbone of the Democratic strategy. Is that true from the campaigns that you've seen out there this season?
SIMMONS: I think Trump is absolutely playing a role in Democratic strategy in that he is the biggest issue on the ballot right now. I mean, I do a bunch of interviews for Hill TV, and I was just down in Florida. I was just down in Georgia. And voters are very fired up about saying something to oppose Donald Trump's view of America...
MARTIN: So that's hard for...
SIMMONS: ...Of anti-immigration America and an America that doesn't mean that all of us get to participate. And that's true not just of people of color. It's also true of white voters who don't see the America that's so harsh as Donald Trump's.
MARTIN: So when we hear Congressman Lujan saying, no, we're talking about the economy. We're talking about health care. You're admitting there that, listen, there are people who are voting because it's an anti-Trump vote. Democrats and some Republicans and Democrats need to be able to leverage that to some degree.
SIMMONS: Absolutely. But they also want to hear from Democrats about what their agenda is. And I think health care is incredibly important because not only do we want to get access to health care, we've got to figure out how we lower the cost to health care. And a lot of voters want to hear about that. And Democrats are talking about it, and it's resonating.
It's amazing now that you have Republicans who have voted dozens of times to kill Obamacare now saying they're standing up for pre-existing conditions. That is something that the Democrats have stood on for a generation. And it's time in this election, I think, for voters to get the sense of Republicans being against it.
MARTIN: Let's talk about immigration. President Trump believes, clearly, immigration is a winning issue for him. He continues to make these provocative remarks, recently making promises about changing asylum rules and birthright citizenship. How should Democrats manage those remarks? Do they respond? Do they counter? Do they stick to health care?
SIMMONS: Donald Trump is trying to get Democrats to chase a - you know, like a beagle chasing a bird down a different alleyway. Voters in this election care a lot more about these issues of health care. And then broadly speaking, they do care about Democrats who are going to be willing to stand up against Donald Trump.
Listen. We saw Oprah Winfrey yesterday out in the campaign trail in Georgia talking about why America is better when we all row in the same direction than it is when we're fighting each other. And I think that's the America that people want. And we are seeing not just a blue wave, but I would argue it's a red, white and blue wave because people are standing up for American values and reasserting the country that we had in place when Barack Obama was president.
MARTIN: We've heard from many voters the last few weeks on our air who feel like moderate voices have been pushed to the side. Donald Trump has pushed the GOP to the right, and he's pushed the Democrats to the left. Is that true, and is that a good thing?
SIMMONS: I look at this as 3D politics. It's not just left-right. It's also inside-out. The people who are on the outside of the political system are fighting the people who are on the inside the political system. And frankly, there are some Democrats who are in jeopardy of being taken down in that wave. We have got to have people fighting for those who are outside the system to have a say in their own futures.
MARTIN: Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. Thank you so much.
SIMMONS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.