News Brief: Midterm Election Results
NOEL KING, HOST:
Democrats have retaken the House in the midterm elections. That puts an end to two years of one-party rule in Washington.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Republicans consolidated their control of the Senate. Three conservative-leaning states unseated Democratic senators last night - North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri. And Republicans will now have 54 seats there to 46 for the other side.
KING: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow have been keeping up with all of this.
Good morning to you both.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: Scott, let's start with the House. The Democrats took control. How'd they do it? What were the key pickups?
DETROW: There were a couple surprising upsets here and there, picking up a seat in Oklahoma City or on the South Carolina coast. But by and large the battlefield was exactly where Democrats had focused and expected to do well. And that's the suburbs - particularly seats that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 that sent Republicans to the House - high-income, high-education suburbs in the Philadelphia area, the Miami area, the Denver suburbs. You can go city by city.
And they're still counting the votes in California. But Democrats are leading narrowly in a couple more key races there, looking like somewhere in the range of 30 seats, plus or minus a few in the end the Democrats picked up here.
KING: And, Mara, this means that Nancy Pelosi is likely the next speaker of the House. Last night, she said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NANCY PELOSI: Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It's about restoring the Constitution's checks and balances to the Trump administration.
KING: All right. So what is - what does she mean? Where do you think we're headed with Democrats in control of the House?
LIASSON: Well, I think that Democrats will do oversight. In other words, they will do the things the Republican House wouldn't do over the White House. And I think that's probably the biggest story and the most significant shift of power from last night. This is a real-life change. They're going to investigate the Trump administration - and not just Donald Trump, but pretty much every cabinet agency is going to come under scrutiny.
Now, the other big question is, do the Democrats and the Republicans have any political muscle memory to do bipartisan legislation? That used to happen in divided governments. The big question is, can Trump and the Democrats find some common ground on infrastructure or on drug prices? Or does legislation pretty much grind to a halt and oversight takes over?
INSKEEP: We should note also that the House results are where we can see something of a national popular vote. If you add it up, it appears - although we're still, of course, getting some votes from different places - Democrats won by seven or eight points, quite substantially in the popular vote, which was the only way that they could carry the House given the advantages that Republicans had through the distribution of population and redistricting and gerrymandering and so forth.
KING: Yeah. I mean, just a really good indication of, you know, what people were thinking, I suppose. Meanwhile, the Senate - Republicans held onto majority in the Senate. Here's Ted Cruz, who beat back a challenge from Beto O'Rourke in Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TED CRUZ: All the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and the hard-working men and women across our state.
KING: That was a very closely watched race. Scott, what were the key seats that the Republicans flipped in the Senate?
DETROW: And a very close race.
KING: Yeah. Yeah.
DETROW: But in the end, the Republican wins in Texas, as most people expected would happen. Yeah. Republicans had big wins in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana, defeating Democratic incumbents there. They're ahead in a very close race in Florida - Senator Bill Nelson trailing Governor Rick Scott, though the AP has not called that race yet. Republicans also have a narrow lead in Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester was defending his seat.
So in the end, Republicans could pick up two to four seats in the Senate. That makes a big difference. And certainly, Republicans had home turf here. Democrats were defending a historic number of seats, particularly in kind of hostile territory in terms of states where President Trump remains very popular.
But Republicans are going to add to their lead in the Senate. And that's a big deal because we saw over and over again the last two years how that narrow Senate majority made it hard for Republicans to, among other things, repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now they have more breathing room.
Another key point, as Mara talked about oversight in the House of Representatives, if the Democrats in the House did try to and did impeach President Trump after Mueller's report comes out, the idea that a 53- or 55-seat Republican Senate would convict the president on impeachment...
DETROW: ...Is very, very small.
INSKEEP: Can I mention one development, though? Because Ted Cruz is able to celebrate a big and hard-fought win there. But when you look at the number of people who voted in Texas, it is remarkable. I went back to the last midterm. There was a Senate race in Texas. John Cornyn won. And there was something like 4.3 million Texans who voted. This time, apparently, something like 8.2...
INSKEEP: ...Million - almost 4 million more - something very close to the 2016 presidential race - in a midterm. And it's going to be worth asking, did Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat, find new voters there? And also, by the way, Ted Cruz?
LIASSON: There's no doubt that the consolation prize for Democrats in Texas was that they made progress in their long-term project, which is turning Texas purple. And Beto O'Rourke helped Democrats build a party in Texas. And it's a battle of inches. But Democrats that I talked to feel that next time is going to be an even closer - and pretty soon, in the next couple of cycles, they'll start electing Democrats in Texas.
KING: You know, Mara, it was notable that Democrats ran younger candidates, women, minorities, LGBTQ people. And many of them did win last night. What does that say about the Democratic Party going forward?
LIASSON: It says that the Democratic Party is a lot more diverse than the Republican Party. And when you look at the picture of the Republican conference in the House and the Democratic caucus in the House after January, one is going to look older, whiter, more male, more rural. The other one is going to look younger, more female and browner. And that's where the Democratic Party is headed. Now, that being said, I think one of the big stories of last night that's important is that the Democratic Party did not lurch to the left.
LIASSON: I mean, the - some of the most progressive candidates - Beto O'Rourke, Andrew Gillum - we don't know about Stacey Abrams yet - but they didn't win. So the narrative that the Democrats are moving to the left, and progressive candidates are the way to go for them I don't think was borne out by last night's results.
DETROW: That's especially true in the House, where, by and large, the new Democratic majority was built on moderate Democratic candidates who played strongly to their district and on issues like health care, not going after President Trump 100 percent.
KING: There were also three dozen governor seats up for grabs last night. And we're going to hear from Florida in just a minute. But Georgia was another race that people were watching very closely.
Scott, what did you notice there?
DETROW: I would put that in the same camp as Texas, where Democrats were really excited by their candidate, Stacey Abrams. She did turn out a lot more Democrats than Georgia typically sees. But it looks like she is on pace to be narrowly defeated by Republican Brian Kemp there. Democrats are stinging on that loss, about the loss in the Florida governor's race, two candidates they were really excited about.
But the fact is Democrats picked up governorships in key states, including Kansas and Wisconsin, where Democrat Tony Evers has defeated Republican Scott Walker, a high-profile Republican, who is running for a third term and had actually won the governor's office three times if you include that recount halfway through his first term. A couple other pickups for Democrats in state houses, as well. That's a big deal. And Democrats also flipped several legislative seat districts.
KING: All right. A lot more this morning. Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow, thanks so much.
DETROW: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
KING: All right. We're heading now to Florida, which was a big battleground state this year.
INSKEEP: Republican Ron DeSantis won the governor's race. He narrowly prevailed over Andrew Gillum, who was campaigning to become the state's first black governor. And as we heard, the Senate race between current Governor Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson, Democrat, is still too close to call, according to NPR News, although Scott has a little bit of an edge.
KING: All right. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Pensacola. Good morning, Debbie.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: This governor's race got a lot of attention. Ron DeSantis ended up the winner. How is that victory going to be interpreted in Florida?
ELLIOTT: I think very much a win for the president. You know, Trump endorsed DeSantis very early, even though his candidacy was considered a long shot to better-funded and more well-known Republican contenders. And DeSantis acknowledged that in his victory speech.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RON DESANTIS: I'd like to thank our president for standing by me when...
DESANTIS: ...For standing by me when it wasn't necessarily the smart thing to do.
ELLIOTT: Now, he sounded a lot like Trump when he was out on the campaign trail on a host of issues, notably immigration. He's a former Republican congressman and Navy officer. And he beat Democrat Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee who had run this progressive campaign. You know, he had been calling for universal Medicare, for example.
And we did see race come into this in a very ugly way. There were some nasty, racist robocalls circulating in Florida, which - DeSantis had been accused of using racially coded language when he warned voters to, quote, "not monkey this up" by electing Gillum. And then on Gillum's side, he had to cut ties with a campaign volunteer who was caught on video calling Florida a, quote, "cracker state"...
INSKEEP: And we should note...
ELLIOTT: ...So it wasn't pretty at times.
INSKEEP: ...We should note on top of that the president of the United States came to Florida on Friday night and said of Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, he's, quote, "just not equipped, just not equipped to be your governor," whatever that means.
KING: Which, I guess, brings up the question...
ELLIOTT: Right. Also, again, people interpret as, is that racially coded language trying to get white voters to come vote against him?
KING: Which brings up this question, Debbie - do you think that the results in Florida tell us anything more broadly about the state of politics in the U.S.?
ELLIOTT: Well, I think Florida can be seen as sort of a laboratory for all of these issues that divide America, race being one. Also, gun control, for example...
ELLIOTT: ...You know, the Parkland school shooting survivors have kept that issue at the forefront here. Immigration. You know, when I was at the polls talking to voters yesterday, that came up more than anything. On one side, Republican - typically Republican voters - telling me they're concerned about border security. And people who are voting Democrat telling me that they were worried about how this country treats immigrants and refugees. So people are divided on that.
KING: And we'll note on our way out that, yesterday, voters in Florida approved an amendment to restore voting rights to some convicted felons. NPR's Debbie Elliott from Pensacola, Fla. Debbie, thanks for the great reporting.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "CHILL DAY")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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.