Democrats Declare Victory In Pa. Congressional Election
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have won the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CONOR LAMB: We fought to find common ground, and we found it almost everywhere. Democrats, Republicans, independents - each of us Americans.
MARTIN: Democrats are taking his apparent victory as a sign of what's to come throughout the midterm elections this year. Some Republicans, as you might imagine, have a different perspective. To talk about this, we've got Kayleigh McEnany in our studio with us this morning. She is a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. Kayleigh, thanks so much for coming in this morning.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: The district, the 18th in Pennsylvania, it's coal country. It went for Donald Trump by 20 points in the election. The president was there campaigning over the weekend for the Republican, Rick Saccone. This should have been a fairly easy win. Why wasn't it?
MCENANY: Well, as you mentioned, this is Trump country, no doubt about it. And Speaker Ryan said yesterday, a noted point, which is that Conor Lamb really ran as a Republican. You look, he said he's personally pro-life. He said he's pro-gun, he's pro-coal, he's pro-tariff, and he was running...
MARTIN: Although, we should say, he's not personally pro-life. Personally, he is. His policies are not.
MARTIN: He doesn't run as a pro-life candidate.
MCENANY: Correct. But he's - he says he's personally pro-life and, as I noted, several Republican policy positions and also, you know, noted he ran against Nancy Pelosi. He explicitly said, I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi, and also I'm not running against Donald Trump. So when you adopt that kind of panoply of policies, you likely will win over some Republican voters and some of those crucial Reagan Democrats that turn out for President Trump.
MARTIN: Although he ran explicitly against the GOP tax cuts.
MCENANY: He ran against the tax cuts, that's right. But on a number of issues, he was a Republican in name at least. And we think that that...
MARTIN: Although the Republican in the race lost, the actual Republican lost.
MCENANY: He did lose. He did lose. But also it's worth noting Conor Lamb contorted himself to fit this district. He was pro-union and he was pro-Republican when he had to be. And we believe he will vote with Nancy Pelosi, and he will go as far left as Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress because now he has to contort himself to fit a very liberal district next time he runs in about a year.
MARTIN: But you can't say at the one - on the one hand that he's against Nancy Pelosi and so he's a conservative but then he is going to vote with Nancy Pelosi.
MCENANY: Well, that's exactly right. I can't say that because he's your typical politician. He said I'm against Nancy Pelosi. I'm not going to vote with Pelosi. But we in the Republican Party believe he will be a lockstep liberal Democrat lemon, much like the rest of the Democratic caucus, where not a single Democrat in Congress voted for tax cuts.
MARTIN: We had the head of the DNC on yesterday, Tom Perez, who said the lesson that Democrats have learned from this race is that they can win anywhere, even in parts of the country that still support President Trump. What lesson did the GOP learn out of this race?
MCENANY: Well, first, I want to note we dispute that, and the reason we dispute Mr. Perez's statement is because, unlike this primary where Conor Lamb was handpicked by committee men, in the rest of the Democratic primaries for the most part, Democrats will have to run against one another. And the people will choose, and you will have groups like Our Revolution, Democracy for America, running against the DCCC, who's handpicking candidates in the race. So you have the establishment Hillary wing of the party versus the Bernie Sanders wing. And we believe that the Democrats are going to destroy one another from within.
MARTIN: Although the Republicans are the ones right now who have a major fissure. It's been well documented over the past year. The so-called establishment wing of the Republican Party has had a real time with the executive branch led by President Donald Trump.
MCENANY: Well, we believe that's relegated to a very select few in Congress, not the party as a whole. When you look at public polling, it suggests that Republican voters stand behind this president. So a few elected officials don't represent our party. The president does.
MARTIN: The president endorsed a lot of Republicans who have not done so well in recent races. Ed Gillespie in Virginia lost the governor's race. He endorsed Luther Strange in Alabama in a primary that he lost. Then he endorsed Roy Moore in that same race. He lost to the Democrat Doug Jones. And now we've got the loss in Pennsylvania. Why can't the president, who is the master of the deal, seal these deals?
MCENANY: Well, when you look at Ed Gillespie, for instance, he - President Trump was not welcome to Virginia. We believe that that could have made a difference. You look at this last race, in the last week, Conor Lamb was six points ahead of Rick Saccone. President Trump came in on Saturday and now you have Rick Saccone losing by a few hundred votes. So we think President Trump's our closer. He will make a big difference in these races. The Roy Moore situation obviously was aberrational and had some extenuating circumstances there. But we think the president makes a big difference and will make a big difference in the midterms.
MARTIN: Do you think, though, that there are some midterm contests where putting some distance between the president and the Republican candidate could help?
MCENANY: No, we don't. Chairwoman McDaniel's been explicit. We want President Trump in every race. We want him to be welcome to every single state. And we think that he makes the difference and will make the difference for us in the midterms.
MARTIN: You've said a couple times that Republicans have lost this race in Pennsylvania. Do you think Rick Saccone should concede?
MCENANY: Well, you know, it's up to Mr. Saccone to concede or not. And likewise there are also some crazy rules on the ground for if there's a recount, you have to have three voters in each precinct. So it's really up to voters at this point, and it's up to the district if there's a recount. We're not wading into that.
MARTIN: Kayleigh McEnany is the spokesperson for the RNC, the Republican National Committee, joining us in our studios here in Washington. We appreciate it, Kayleigh.
MCENANY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.