Democrats' Midterm Election Strategy Intraparty rivalries could cost Democrats seats in November. NPR's Michel Martin asks Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, when party leaders should intervene.

Democrats' Midterm Election Strategy

Democrats' Midterm Election Strategy

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Intraparty rivalries could cost Democrats seats in November. NPR's Michel Martin asks Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, when party leaders should intervene.


So now let's hear from the head of the group that wants to expand Democratic numbers in the House, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico. And he is with us now via Skype. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

BEN RAY LUJAN: Michel, thank you for having me today, really appreciate it.

MARTIN: Let me start with a story that broke recently. A progressive candidate in Colorado, Levi Tillemann, secretly recorded Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland - he's a longtime member of the House leadership - asking him to drop out of a primary for a congressional seat in favor of a more centrist candidate, Jason Crow. For a lot of people, this seems like a replay of the 2016 conflict between the Bernie Sanders wing versus the establishment's preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. How do you see it, and how are you addressing that?

LUJAN: Well, I think, Michel, what's often lost in a lot of these conversations is it's ultimately the voters of those congressional districts that are going to determine who's going to represent them. In the case of Jason Crow, look, he's a veteran. He's well-decorated, served our country. He's done some incredible things back in the district. He's been working hard to reach out to his constituents. And we see him as a strong candidate to defeat Congressman Coffman. As a matter of fact, the polling shows very clearly that the only candidate in this race that has a chance to defeat Mr. Coffman is Jason Crow.

MARTIN: So what is the DCCC's role here?

LUJAN: I would say in each district it's a different responsibility almost, but in the end, it's our job to win the House back. In California, for example, we have a top-two problem. Whoever the top two vote getters are in the primary, they run against one another in the general. So it turns out you could have two Republicans running against one another in the general and you would block out all the Democrats. And so what we've learned from that is you need to lean in in some of these races, especially in California, to make sure that all the work that grassroots organizations and individuals have been doing, that they have a Democrat in the general election that is running and that can win.

MARTIN: Republicans seem to think that the current House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is a big drag overall nationally. We see that a very large number of ads that have been generated by the Republican Party are directed at her. Do you think that's true? I mean, what are you hearing from the candidates running in districts that are in play?

LUJAN: Well, first, Republicans have said that they're going to run attack ads with leader Pelosi. They have said that they're going to stand by their tax plan. And they're also - over the last week, I believe, Michel, Republicans said that they're going to run attack ads including Secretary Clinton now. So it doesn't look like Republicans can make up their mind on what their playbook is. While Republicans also attacked leader Pelosi in western Pennsylvania, clearly it did not do the job because Republicans lost that seat. So I think Republicans are going to have to do some reflecting on their failed playbook. And it's not just Democrats saying that. I've heard from many Republicans that are concerned about the strategy and the failed playbook that Republicans have been using in these elections already.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, we know that Democrats are charged up to vote against Trump. I mean, we certainly saw that in Virginia a couple of months ago, where even there were some Republicans who crossed lines to vote against Donald Trump. But what's the positive message that you're encouraging Democratic candidates to run on?

LUJAN: You know, it's not enough to have a reason just to vote against someone or something as currently exists with President Trump. And it's also why you're not going to hear Democrats talking much about President Trump. He's going to do all the talking for us. And Republican candidates are going to have to be out there explaining for every scandal and every bad decision that this president is making while Democrats are out there and candidates and our colleagues talking to the American people about real issues facing them around the kitchen table around better jobs and better wages.

MARTIN: But the recent unemployment figures show that unemployment is at the lowest level it's been in years.

LUJAN: Here's what the American people are telling us - while they see that the economy is doing better, they don't attribute it to President Trump, nor to House Republicans. They see this over 90 consecutive months of positive job creation. So they see this all the way back to the work that was done under President Barack Obama. But what Republicans miss, the American people, so many hardworking families are still struggling. It's still tough out there.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico. He's chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His job is to elect as many Democrats as possible to the Congress this fall. He was kind of to join us via Skype. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking to us.

LUJAN: Thank you, Michel. I look forward to visiting again.

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