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How Pelosi battle reflects Democratic frustration over leadership ‘bottleneck’

Two weeks after Election Day, Democrats have increased their gains in the House, but Republicans secured additional victories in Senate and governors' races. Were these results indicative solely of sentiment toward President Trump, or broader ideological trends? And what's the outlook for Nancy Pelosi? Amy Walters of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Election Day was almost two weeks ago. But votes are still being counted in some parts of the country, while others just wrapped up results in the past few days.

    This weekend, Democrats flipped more seats in their favor in the House of Representatives, while recounts in Georgia and Florida ended up with Republicans gaining two governorships and a seat in the Senate.

    For analysis on all of this and more, I'm joined by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Hello to both of you. Happy Monday.

    So, the Democrats, it looks, have picked up 38 more seats in the House. Three seats, we still don't know the results on, they're still counting.

    But if it stays at 38, including some stunning results — and we're looking — here's the total as we have it right now — including some stunning results in Orange County, California, kind of the home base for conservative Republicanism, Ronald Reagan country.

    What does this overall showing say about the midterms, Amy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think wasn't it Ronald Reagan who said Orange County is where good Republicans go to die?

    (LAUGHTER)

    This was his saying. This was the heart of conservatism, in not just California, but it sort of spawned a lot of national conservative movements.

    What 2018 told me is that it was essentially a replay of 2016, in that the places were — where Trump did well, where he's still popular, Republicans did well, but in the districts that he didn't do well, either he came very close, he either lost it or only won it by a very narrow margin, Republicans could not hold on to those districts.

    And what was remarkable to me is, I went and I looked at the vote share, how much — what percentage of the vote Donald Trump got in those districts in 2016 and compared it to how Republicans candidates did in 2018, and that they're almost identical.

    So, for example, if Donald Trump got 45 percent, as he did in some of the Orange County districts, what you find, with or without an incumbent, the Republican got within a point or two of 45 percent, in other words, how Trump, once again, becomes the really important factor in determining how the House looks.

    And the suburban districts ultimately are the places where Trump remained really unpopular post-2016.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up on that, Tam, you have looked at how — the people Trump campaigned for, how they did, so to build on this story.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    So, the people that President Trump endorsed in the primary won 27-1. His brand is gold in the Republican base in Republican primaries. Even Republicans who were not necessarily the front-runner ended up winning after a Trump endorsement.

    Now you go to the general election. His win rate is 58 percent. Not terrible, but it's a sign that gravity does apply, that President Trump's brand is not so great when you're talking to the entire electorate, instead of just Republicans.

    And so that — you know, one thing that also stands out, though, as we get these results from Florida and Georgia, is that that final campaign swing he did, the states that he went to in that final week, those people generally won. In Missouri, Josh Hawley won in the Senate, Indiana, and then Florida and Georgia.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    And the real question is whether this is going to be a bigger trend or whether this is really about President Trump, right?

    And so the fun thing about following elections year after year after year is you get to find out which things are outliers and which are trends. And we all remember, in 2000, when Al Gore lost, he lost his home state of Tennessee, and that really began the first moment where we started seeing Democrats losing their hold on these areas of the country that are more rural and southern, and that trend has continued up through 2016.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And talking to Republicans today, they are — the ones I was talking to who are out in California are concerned that this isn't just Orange County. This is the West.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    That the whole — you know, the Orange curtain has fallen in Orange County, the Republican strength there, and that this may say something broader than just Orange County.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right.

    So, now that the Democrats have taken the majority in the House, they have to pick a leader.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what we're witnessing is a fight of some dimension over whether Nancy Pelosi is going to be elected the next speaker.

    Amy, 16 Democrats today signed a letter saying they will oppose her, no matter what. There are some other freshmen who have expressed concern. How much trouble is she in? You have looked at who the people are who signed it.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    You know, what's really interesting is, this is not a battle over ideology. This isn't a battle about competency.

    This really seems — the frustration with Democrats who signed that letter and others who have said they're not supporting her is really about the — wanting to see change and the frustration with a leadership that is older, significantly older.

    They're in their late 70s, every single member of the Democratic leadership in the House. And the frustration that there's been a bottleneck, essentially, for ambitious young members to get into leadership.

    But what I think these Democrats are having a hard time doing is finding a significant number of folks to say publicly — 16 is an important number, because she can't lose more than 15 members right now to get the magic number of 218.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But assuming all vote.

  • Amy Walter:

    Assuming all of them vote, and there's all that.

    But the other piece of this is, there still is not an other. It's Nancy Pelosi, we do not want her to be speaker, but they have not unified around who that person would be if it's not Nancy Pelosi.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And one name that had come up as a potential alternative is Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, but she didn't even sign that letter.

    And the word now is that she's thinking about it and that, you know, the heavy load of the fund-raising responsibilities of speaker is something that she's also thinking about, because there's a lot of travel.

    Speaker of the House is this high-profile, really significant, importance job. It is also a job that involves a ton of traveling and a ton of fund-raising. And, in some ways, that's more important than the lawmaking part of it, especially in a year when they're going to be one-half of one-third of the government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nancy Pelosi has raised a lot of money for a lot of Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    She has.

    And she has the history. I think what she's really selling is, I have been able to keep this caucus together and get the tough votes passed through the caucus time after time. And going up against President Trump, you need somebody who has experience. You need somebody who knows how to be strategic. You need somebody who knows how to count votes.

    And that is something that, I think, is going to be very difficult for someone not named Pelosi, especially one of these younger members who hasn't been around a long time, to say that they will be able to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And some interesting questions about what it means for some of these freshmen, newly elected Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's the real challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And voting for or against her and how that affects what they do, if they're in a tough district…

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … in 2020.

    All right, so much to talk about. Next Monday, we're going to talk about Mississippi.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    And the speaker vote is after Thanksgiving as well, so we can still talk about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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