HARI SREENIVASAN: We return now to the results of yesterday’s special elections in Georgia and South Carolina, and what both parties can learn from these congressional races as we look ahead to next year’s midterms.
John Yang has more on that.
JOHN YANG: Joining me now to look at what happened in these two Southern races and the big takeaways for both Democrats and Republicans are Karine Jean-Pierre. She’s a senior adviser for MoveOn.org and worked in the Obama White House. And David Avella, chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee focused on developing candidates to run for higher office.
Karine, David, thanks for joining us.
Two special elections, two Republican districts, Republicans held on. One was being highly watched, one not so much. The one being highly watched wasn’t as close as people thought it might be. The one that nobody seemed to be watching was much closer.
So, what did we learn last night?
Karine, let’s start with you. What did we learn yesterday?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MoveOn.org: Well, there’s a few big takeaways.
But I do want to be clear here. Yes, the one that we watched, which is Georgia 6, we didn’t come as close as we thought, but he was dealing with a 24-point deficit. If you think about Tom Price, who won that district in November, he got as close as five points, which I think says a lot. It says that district is a gerrymandered district that is a stronghold for Republicans.
It is a Republican plus-eight district. And so I think getting that close says a lot. There is a lot of takeaways that I take from it, which is, number one, I think, in 2018, if we’re now able to play in Georgia and South Carolina, we’re going to be able to play in a lot of different other states, because Georgia and South Carolina are deep red states.
And also just looking at South Carolina for a second, it went under the radar. We weren’t able — it did better than we expected. To me, that’s going to be more like 2018 because you are going to have 435 races that you’re not going to be able to pay attention to.
And so I think there are some similarities there, which are you’re just not going to have the focus that did you with Georgia 6.
JOHN YANG: David, what did we learn now?
DAVID AVELLA, GOPAC: Here are the facts. South Carolina 5 was only competitive because Republicans didn’t pay attention to it. Democrats did exactly what they needed to do, which was to try to sneak up on the Republicans. It failed.
And in Georgia 5, this is a race that every poll except one said Jon Ossoff was going to win, and he didn’t come close. Five points is not a close win.
Republicans should feel good about what happened yesterday. But here is the bigger lesson, and it’s really for the U.S. Senate, not the U.S. House. These four special elections all say the same thing. Karine’s team cannot put enough progressives together for the nine Democrats who sit in seats where Donald Trump won their states.
And if they’re going to get reelected, they have got to find Republicans and independents that are willing to come vote for them. And if they’re going to do that, they better find something in the Trump agenda that they can vote for that they can go back home and tell folks they’re supporting the president’s agenda.
JOHN YANG: Karine, what about that? Is it enough for the Democrats just to be against everything that the Republicans are doing?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I completely agree. We cannot just be anti-Trump. We have to actually have a — I believe a progressive, clear vision, and be able to talk about that vision and be able to define ourselves before the Republicans do, but also use that vision to be able to draw that stark contrast with Donald Trump.
And so that is, I think, a lesson that we learned from yesterday which is incredibly important. But I do want to point out that there are about 70 to 80 districts that are going to come up in 2018 that are not as red at all as Georgia and South Carolina that we will be competitive in.
So, I just want to be clear. And also special elections are special elections for a reason. We shouldn’t put too much stock into this. In 2005, Democrats lost special elections and then in 2006 they won the majority back in the House.
JOHN YANG: David, is there — going back to what Karine said in her first answer, is there reason to be concerned on the Republican side that, in every special election, the Republicans — the Democrats — I’m sorry — have outperformed, have done better than they have done in previous congressional elections, and in some cases have done better than President Trump did in those districts?
DAVID AVELLA: Republicans still won. Republicans are still in the majority.
And if Republicans pass tax reform, pass a health care system that’s better than Obamacare, keeps Americans safe, and works on an infrastructure bill, it will a good day for Republicans in 2018.
We have far more control over our fate in 2018 if we do the things that we need to do that voters elected us to do.
JOHN YANG: I want to get back to the health care.
But, Karine, I also want to ask you. The one thing in the Georgia race that the Republicans did apparently effectively is they draped Nancy Pelosi around the shoulders of the Democratic candidate. Is that a concern going into the midterms?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think this is — goes back to what I was saying earlier. You have to define yourself first before Republicans do.
And to me like, remember, this is a deep red district. Both of them were. And to me, it’s like it’s an old playbook. Most people don’t know who Nancy Pelosi is. Most people don’t know who Paul Ryan is. And, like, once again, this was in a different type of district that Democrats — it shouldn’t have been competitive in the first place.
DAVID AVELLA: Poor Karine has to redefine what victory means.
You either win and you get to go to Washington and govern, or you don’t. And there’s much discussion today about should Nancy Pelosi go or shouldn’t she go? And progressives are saying she should go. And some are saying she shouldn’t. The Republicans are saying, please keep her.
Nancy Pelosi is only the messenger for a larger progressive cause. The problem isn’t, per se, Nancy Pelosi. It’s the ideas that she’s ultimately pushing. There’s enough Americans who support that view to get Democrats elected.
JOHN YANG: David, you mentioned health care, that if they can — they need to get — they need to pass things, they need to get some victories up on the board.
How important politically is — we’re going to see the health care bill tomorrow in the Senate — getting a vote by July? The public support for the health care bill has been dropping since the House introduced it and passed it.
Is there concern that, you do this, and you get saddled with an unpopular bill, much the same way that the Democrats did eight years ago?
DAVID AVELLA: Well, we have to have a bill that helps bring — keep premiums in line, that ultimately gives good access to health care, which we’re not talking about the fact that every month another state goes down, more health care providers, so that more Americans have to go find health insurance somewhere else in a system where there may have only been that one health care provider on the insurance side.
So, Republicans need to deliver a health care bill that gets rid of the taxes that Obamacare put on, that not only will make health care better, but will also help create jobs and spur the economy, but, two, will allow doctors and patients to keep a strong relationship between each other, and provides ultimately access to everyone.
JOHN YANG: Less than 30 seconds, Karine. Go ahead.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, my friend David needs to read the CBO score of the House bill, which what we’re hearing, that Senate bill is very similar to the House bill.
Look, it’s cruel. If the House bill was mean, it sounds like the Senate bill is going to be cruel. And, honestly, it’s not even about politics or electoral — elections at this point. It’s about taking people off of their health care.
It’s about people potentially dying. And what we’re seeing is the Republicans want to kick off tens of millions of people and hurt our most vulnerable, and that is a problem.
DAVID AVELLA: But that is what Obamacare is doing.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: No, that is not true. That is not true, not according to the CBO score, an independent office.
DAVID AVELLA: More and more people are losing their health insurance every month under the current Obamacare.
JOHN YANG: We’re going to have to leave it there. We’re going to know more tomorrow. And I’m sure we will talk more about this after tomorrow.
Karine Jean-Pierre, David Avella, thanks for joining us.
DAVID AVELLA: Thank you.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John.