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Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg on election process vs. outcome

The initial despondency of Democrats on election night receded once the full scope of their House victory became clear -- although disappointments remained. In Politics Monday, NPR’s Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections join John Yang to discuss election results, the president's reaction and when vote counting becomes ‘messy.’

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, votes are still being tallied from last week's midterm election, but Democrats have picked up more than 30 seats to regain control of the House.

    John Yang has more on the lessons of the 2018 midterms — John.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, was it the blue wave that Democrats had hoped for? And will the new House majority look like what the voters that helped elect them look like?

    It's time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections.

    Welcome to you both.

    Tuesday night, the story line quickly developed that this wasn't the night that Democrats had hoped for, that the blue wave had become — I heard someone refer to it as a blue ripple.

    Tam, a week now out from Election Day, we have seen more races called, we have seen some margins narrow. What does it look like?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Sometimes, the initial hot takes are not so hot after a few days.

    And what it looks like is — and President Trump came out and declared victory. And it was like, hmm. Well, now it's even clearer that — that Democrats picked up a lot of seats. There are still several races that are not called yet still outstanding.

    At the moment, AP has it at 32 seats flipped, but there are many more outstanding, especially in California. And the important thing to keep in mind is that, yes, election night is a big night, it's a big night on television, but the vote counting is slow and arduous, and especially in states like California, where they have a lot of vote by mail.

    Even if it says 100 percent of precincts reporting, that's not 100 percent of votes counted.

  • John Yang:

    Stu, credit where credit is due.

    All right, Tuesday night, I remember fairly early in the night you tweeted out — you didn't — you said, what's with all this hand-wringing?


  • Stu Rothenberg:

    That's right. That's right.

    Yes, I think the narrative didn't change two or three days after the election. I think it changed two or three hours after the votes started being counted, actually.

    I understand why Democrats were fully invested in the Texas Senate race and the Florida governor's race and the Georgia governor's race. And Amy McGrath didn't do as well in Kentucky 6, in an early state.

    But, look, once we got into the large number of districts that were competitive and that we were really watching, it was very clear we had a wave. I mean, between 35 and 40 seats flipping is a wave.

    A national election is a wave. It's not a cherry-picked election, where a district here flipped and a district there flipped.

    There were — there were upsets, significant upsets, in Oklahoma, in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. So, look, we just had a wave. People tend to jump the gun. I understand it. Everybody wants to be first. People are emotional. They're invested in the races.

    But we had a wave, a good Democratic wave.

  • John Yang:

    Stu, a couple of those races you talked about, the Georgia governor's, Florida governor, still up in the air.

    The president saying that votes being discovered in Florida, being turned up. He really is — seems to be challenging the legitimacy of this.

    What do you — what do you make of that?

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    I think this is very consistent for the president.

    He really doesn't care about process. He's all into outcomes and how the outcomes affect him and how he plays in the outcome. I mean, many of us think the process is actually more important than the outcome. If you don't get the process right, you can't get the outcome right.

    So I think it's — what you see with Donald Trump is what you get. This is very consistent all along the ways, with the Kavanaugh testimony, rigged elections. He's always undermining the system when it benefits him.

    And I expect him to continue that.

  • Tamara Keith:


    And the thing about the president is, the first election that he was probably really, truly invested in the result of was 2016. And that election ended at the end of the night — or very early the next morning.

    And this election is — did not end. There are 435 House races and 35 Senate races and all of these governor's races. And the minutiae of the election process is not pretty all the time. Close elections get a little bit messy. The process has a lot of technicalities. And things that, if you haven't been paying close attention, come off as weird or suspicious, but aren't.

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    I just want to add one thing.

    The more we have mail elections, mail balloting, absentee ballots and the like, the more complicated this counting process is going to be. I remember somebody tweeted the other — the other day, maybe the president needs to understand how the mail works.

    It's a slow process. Letters come in. The votes come in, and you got to count them. That's the way it is.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And you have to match the signatures on the absentee ballots.

  • John Yang:

    Tam, we heard representative-elect Spanberger talk about the new voices coming into the House.

    The leadership, though — the new voices at the lowest levels. At the top levels, the leadership team that appears to be headed to remain has been there for about a decade. They're, the three top leaders, in their late 70s.

    Is this going to be a challenge for the Democrats, this public face of the party as this — as we approach 2020?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly, if the leadership stays exactly the way it is, I can picture the RNC e-mails that are probably headed to my inbox already talking about the leadership not reflecting the broader American public, and also the RNC e-mails saying, what about all those Democrats who said they weren't going to vote for Pelosi, and now they do?

    One argument that you been hearing a lot in the last 48 hours or so is, you can't replace something with nothing. And until someone steps forward for the Democrats to challenge Pelosi, this sort of nascent effort that is out there with members trying to put together a movement, it's pretty hard if the movement doesn't have a leader.

  • John Yang:


  • Stu Rothenberg:

    Well, no, I agree. I think — I think the younger Democrats and more recently elected Democrats need a voice.

    But let's remember, the speaker is a woman. Clyburn is an African-American. So, this is a party that has tried to be more diverse and welcoming. But there's no question that 18-to-29-year-olds, 18-to-35-year-olds, they would be more comfortable seeing, I think, some younger members.

    It doesn't have to even be in the form of leadership, John. These are people who speak for the party and are involved in TV interviews and things like that. I think that would be helpful for Democrats, because the leadership should in many ways reflect the party.

    But, also, they should reflect the country, actually.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And beyond the top three, Democrats have a lot of leadership positions in the House. So, Nancy Pelosi has said that she sees herself as a transitional speaker.

    They have had farm team issues, where the people who were in the lower ranks of the leadership ended up leaving, like Xavier Becerra, who went to become attorney general of California. So there's something for Democrats to figure out.

  • John Yang:

    Tamara Keith, Stu Rothenberg, thank you very much.

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    Thanks, John.

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