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How voter feelings about Trump could affect key House races

A handful of competitive House races could tip the balance of power in Washington this November. Judy Woodruff discusses the state-of-play with public television reporters Scott Shafer of KQED in California; Briana Vannozzi of NJTV in New Jersey; and Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities PBS.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While eyes are on the Senate race in Texas, competitive house races are crucial to a blue wave on Election Day.

    We will now take a look at what's playing out in some of these close races in key states with three public media reporters, Scott Shafer of KQED in California, Briana Vannozzi of NJTV in New Jersey, and Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities PBS in Minnesota.

    Welcome to all three of you.

    And I'm going to start — work my — in the East and work my way west.

    Briana Vannozzi, with you, let's talk about what is on the minds of the voters. What issues are you hearing them bring up?

  • Briana Vannozzi:

    Health care, health care, health care. Across the board, the polls in New Jersey, no matter the district, show health care is the number one issue here.

    And beyond that, it's taxes. The GOP tax bill that was passed really hit New Jersey at a different level, because we have some of the highest real estate values and also some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and a specific portion of that, known as the state and local tax deduction, would really affect residents here.

    So folks are concerned about whether their federal tax bills are going to go up or whether they will receive a cut, whether that tax bill would be repealed and replaced, as some have talked about, beyond that, immigration and guns.

    I think one of the biggest, most interesting items that we have seen in New Jersey is that the voter registration numbers are increasing more than we have ever seen for a midterm. We have had 100,000 more voters register since January through the end of September.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. And I want to talk to you all about the enthusiasm and what you're seeing.

    So let's turn to Minnesota.

    Mary Lahammer, it's interesting what's going on in your state. You have got at least for competitive races, two in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs, where Republicans are worried, Democrats seem to be in stronger shape.

    But out in the rural parts of Minnesota, it's a different picture. Tell us what's going on. What's on the mind of voters?

  • Mary Lahammer:

    Health care, for sure, and partisanship.

    We are an independent state. We're a unique state. We lead the nation in voter turnout, in education levels, in civic engagement. Already here, absentee voting, early voting is up 235 percent. So we have an incredibly engaged electorate.

    And we do have fully half of our congressional races are seen as competitive. That's four out of eight. And, as you mentioned, two of those seats are in rural Minnesota, one in Northern Minnesota, the other in Southern Minnesota. And then the other two are in suburban areas. And it really depends on how the president is playing, how issues are playing.

    Very interesting composition in a state with an independent streak that a while back elected a third-party governor in former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I do want to ask you about issues there as well.

    But I want to get to Scott Shafer in California, where you have also got some very interesting congressional races under way. What are voters talking about there, Scott?

  •  Scott Shafer:

    Well, first of all, Judy, there's a real sense of dysfunction in Washington. They're tired of the bickering. They feel that government isn't paying attention to their problems, and they want that fixed.

    They want the parties to work together to get things done. Health care is definitely a big issue. There are concerns about the Republican tax bill in places like Orange County, where many of these competitive races are being held. The tax bill could well hurt people in places like that, where home costs are very high, incomes are high, and certainly the Democrats are talking a lot about that.

    There's also a repeal of a gas tax on the statewide ballot here. And, of course, Orange County, which is again where many of these races are playing out, very anti-tax historically. And so Republicans are hoping to use that issue, along with immigration, security at the border, to get voters to come out to the polls.

    But I will say that in terms of fund-raising, Democrats in this last quarter, the third quarter, have outraised in these competitive races Republicans by 5-1. And these are all first-time candidates, Judy. All these Democrats, they have never run for office before. And they're doing really well both raising money and in the polls, where polls show that almost all the seats are very, very competitive right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  •  Scott Shafer:

    And in some cases, the Democrat — at least one case, the Democrat is way ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    And, Briana Vannozzi, you a minute ago were talking about issues on the — on the minds of voters. You started with health care.

    But President Trump is coming up as well. We know that in a couple of these races where you have a Republican incumbent, in one case, with Leonard Lance, it's someone who hasn't always voted with the president. But there — there's another race where you have a candidate who has been — Tom MacArthur, who's been more pro-Donald Trump.

  • Briana Vannozzi:

    It's been interesting to see which candidates and, depending upon their district, lean more toward advocating for the president's policies.

    The message from Democrats has been, we will be the checks and balances on President Trump's hard-right agenda. The message from Republicans, who know that they have a base, as is in the case of the 3rd District with Tom MacArthur, is, I will stand up for the president's policies for the reasons that you elected him.

    And, in that case, kit still seems to be working. Up in the 11th district, we have been noticing that President Trump's name is often left out specifically in discussions.

    And in the 7th, as you mentioned, Judy, we're actually gearing up to host a debate tonight between Leonard lance and Tom Malinowski, where both candidates are saying, hey, I'm a moderate, I'm pragmatic, I'm a sensible centrist. I'm going to talk to those undecided voters that we have quite a few of in this suburban area.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Briana Vannozzi:

    This is a district, that particular one, where you have really highly educated voters who also tend to disapprove of the president's job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much of it depends on the profile of the district, of course, and who these voters are and what they think is in their interests.

    Mary Lahammer, quickly, Minnesota, how much of a factor is President Trump there in these close races, the House races?

  • Mary Lahammer:

    Trump is a big factor, in the fact he has visited. He was just in Southern Minnesota, down in Minnesota's open congressional district. He was visiting the Rochester area.

    And there, Jim Hagedorn, the Republican, is running with him. He loves the president. And up in the 8th, Pete Stauber, the Republican there, also running with the president, appearing with the president.

    The interesting part is, approval numbers are different in those two regions. Northern Minnesota is known as the Iron Range. Steel tariffs appear to be fairly popular there. The governor's rating — the president's ratings are holding there. But, in Southern Minnesota, soybean territory, soybean farmers there appear to be pretty displeased with the soybean tariffs.

    So the president it appears to be helping Republicans in Northern Minnesota, but potentially hurting Republicans in Southern Minnesota. And then we have those two suburban seats. One of the Republicans is running with the president. The other is not, Congressman Erik Paulsen in the suburbs, not running with the president.

    And then Congressman Jason Lewis said, yes, I like what he doing, maybe don't always like his style.

    But he says his policies are working. So it really depends on where you are in Minnesota.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So interesting to get this picture of the whole country.

    Finally, quickly, let me come back to you, Scott Shafer on, we know the president plays a different role in California. He is not as popular as he is in some other parts of the country. But there are parts of your state where he is.

  •  Scott Shafer:


    Donald Trump won 28 or so of California's 53 counties. It's just that a lot of people don't live there. But in these — in these competitive races, these districts we're talking about, Donald Trump is not particularly popular. And the candidates, the Republicans are not mentioning him.

    President Trump is not coming out here to campaign or raise money. He's going to Nevada next door, Arizona, but not to California. I think they have decided that is not helpful to have him out here. It'll only turn out the Democratic vote more.

    So we have seen Obama and Biden out here campaigning for Democrats, but, so far — Mike Pence was here a while ago, but no President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    Well, we still have almost three weeks ago. And we're going to be watching all of these House races between now and then, and certainly on election night.

    Scott Shafer, KQED in California, Briana Vannozzi with New Jersey TV, NJTV in New Jersey, and Mary Lahammer, Twin Cities PBS in Minnesota, thank you.

  •  Scott Shafer:

    Thank you.

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