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Primaries Feature Democratic Ideological And Stylistic Battles

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 8:05 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Democratic voters will give us some more clues today about which direction the party is headed in the midterm elections. There are primaries taking place in Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas and some runoffs in Texas. Some candidates see the key to victory this fall as firing up the progressive base. Others think it is all about winning over more moderate voters. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is here to talk about this.

Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: All right, so there had been this narrative - this battle between the establishment and the left wing of the Democratic Party. It seemed like the party was keeping a lid on that for a while. Where do things stand heading into today?

DETROW: Yeah, and that shifted a little bit. Just to say up top, there are two big races to watch today - Democratic primaries in Texas for a suburban House seat and then the Georgia governor's race where this comes into play. But to give you a quick recap, last week, Nebraska - a populist candidate, Kara Eastman, won a primary in Omaha - a lot of excitement for progressive Democrats, for, you know, people who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016. But it does possibly spoil Democratic chances of flipping a seat there, according to national leaders. You also had recently a competitive Pennsylvania seat in the Philadelphia suburbs. A candidate who was running as a populist, dubbing himself a patriotic millionaire, beat a moderate Democratic - a moderate Democrat that party leaders had been really excited about. So progressives do feel emboldened and don't really seem to be scared off by warnings or concerns from party leaders right now.

GREENE: Well, is this narrative playing out in one of these races in Texas that I think we've been following for a while? Texas had their primary in March, and now there's this runoff near Houston that you reported for us on yesterday. Just remind us about all that.

DETROW: Yeah, there's several different runoffs today, but this one that we've been paying attention to, it's a key district for Democrats - the 7th. It's suburban - high-income, high-education district that leaned Clinton in 2016 but also elected a Republican House member. There's 25 of these districts around the country, and they are the key to retaking the House, according to Democrats. So because Democrats were so focused on this, they did something really unexpected before the March primaries, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed opposition research on one of the candidates, Laura Moser, who they worried is just unelectable in the fall. It backfired big-time. She advanced to the runoff against their preferred candidate, Lizzie Fletcher, and this race has now become a referendum on all of these tensions we've been talking about, frankly, to the exasperation of both candidates, who say they're there to talk about issues like flooding, like flooding recovery in Houston, like taxes, like health care, and not the DCCC.

GREENE: Stuff that's really important to voters.

DETROW: Yeah. But, I mean - but again, it's such a big-picture tension point, and it's playing out in this district, so that's why we focused on it.

GREENE: Well, you also said that this tension is playing out, to some extent, in the governor's race in Georgia.

DETROW: Yeah, but there's a little bit of a role reversal in terms of how national Democrats are getting engaged in the race. This is an interesting primary. It's a battle of the Staceys. You have Stacey Abrams running against Stacey Evans. Not only do they have the same name, but they have similar backgrounds - both state representatives. Key difference - Stacey Abrams is African-American, and Stacey Evans is white. There's been some racial tensions in the way this campaign has played out. But it's Abrams who's gotten a lot of high-profile endorsements recently. Hillary Clinton endorsed her; Kamala Harris endorsed her - other high-profile Democrats. And she's the one who's saying, we need to fire up our base here; it's all about energizing Democrats.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow talking to us about some Democratic primary races to follow today. Scott, always appreciate it. Thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.