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Politics chat: Midterm lessons for Democrats and Republicans


My goodness, what a week - the red wave that wasn't, the margins that looked more like microscopic slivers and key wins for Democrats last night in Nevada. We have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So big night in Nevada. Tell us about those wins and where things stand now in Congress.

LIASSON: Well, last night, Cisco Aguilar beat Republican Jim Marchant, who's an election denier, for the position of secretary of state. That's the position that oversees the conducting of elections and vote counting. So far, no election denier has won a secretary of state position in a battleground state. Also last night, Nevada Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto managed to keep her seat. So that means the Democrats will keep their majority in the Senate, even without the seat in Georgia, which will be determined in a runoff next month.

We still have a lot of outstanding House races. Right now, it looks like the largest majority the Republicans could get in the House, based on the outstanding races that haven't been called, is a margin of nine seats, and it could be as small as three. That would be the lowest margin for an out party in the first midterm, ever. There's still an outstanding governor's race in Arizona that's really important. Arizona is a battleground state. The Republican running for governor there, Kari Lake, is an election denier who said that she wouldn't have certified Biden's win in Arizona in 2020. So if she wins, the question is, would she refuse to certify results she disagrees with in 2024?

RASCOE: And so, you know, we'll get to Republicans in a minute. But were there any takeaways for Democrats for the results that they already have? They did much better than expected.

LIASSON: Yes, they did. One of the problems Democrats faced going into this cycle was how to appeal to white, noncollege-educated voters. Several candidates, Democratic candidates, did that. John Fetterman, is an example - kept on wearing his hoodie and shorts as he campaigned in rural counties. He said he was for fracking. He was for funding, not defunding the police. And he did win over some new voters while keeping his college-educated base.

RASCOE: So what does this mean for the Republican Party?

LIASSON: There's no doubt that Republicans lost because it was such a stunning setback, given how they were expecting gains to get double-digit majorities in the House. This was the worst performance by an opposition party in 20 years in a midterm. Democrats were expecting them to get double-digit majorities in the House. They also were expecting to win the Senate. But look. Winning the House, even by one seat, is a victory. But that tiny margin is going to make the job of whoever becomes the speaker of the House just miserable because it's so hard to keep a majority that small in line. Republicans themselves consider this a complete debacle. The hunt is on now for who to blame for this disappointing result. You know, last night, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who is a Trump loyalist, tweeted, quote, "The old party is dead. Time to bury it and build something new." So I think there's a lot of turmoil ahead for Republicans.

RASCOE: Yeah, that's very stark imagery. I mean, so - and on following up on that point, I got to ask you about expected announcements from President Biden, possibly, and former President Donald Trump.

LIASSON: Yep. We've heard from both of them. President Biden said at his post-election press conference that he intends to run. Donald Trump has been teasing that he's going to make this big announcement on the 15 from Mar-a-Lago. And as usual, Trump is a fraught subject for the Republican party. You know, the Republican establishment, including many who've supported Trump in the past, would like Trump to be in the rearview mirror, but instead, he's still on the hood of the car.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah, hanging on.

LIASSON: And they want to move on. They're not critical of him for his positions or because he's bad for American democracy, but because he looks like a loser now. They'd also prefer that he not announce while there's still an outstanding race in Georgia because he tends to turn off independents and suburban women, who showed this week that they prefer the mainstream, not the extreme.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.