ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The 2018 elections kicked off last night with primary voting in Texas. It's a key state with a big Senate race and some important contests in the House that could help determine control of Congress. Democrats were excited going into last night because of early signs of high turnout. So did that come to fruition? And what could any of this mean going forward? NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to give us some context on all this. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So turnout - how high was it, and did it show signs of a possible Democratic blue wave in Texas?
MONTANARO: (Laughter) Well, hold your horses, as they might say in Texas. You know, look. Turnout was double for Democrats than what it was in 2014, but Republicans still turned out more voters for the big statewide races. Texas is still Texas. So think about that. So much attention was focused on this Democratic candidate, Congressman Beto O'Rourke's, candidacy for the Senate. But the incumbent, Senator Ted Cruz, had double O'Rourke's votes. And he wasn't even challenged by anyone.
So another bad sign for Democrats - a Latina candidate, Sema Hernandez, who's just 32, spent hardly any money, has very low name ID, managed to get a quarter of the Democratic vote - not a good sign for O'Rourke's candidacy because Democrats have had trouble firing up Latino voters for their favored candidates over the years. And without Latinos fully engaged, it's going to be almost impossible for someone like O'Rourke to win in today's Texas.
Now, that said, winning statewide isn't everything. If you're focused on the possibility of Democrats taking back the House, there were three suburban districts going in that were competitive. And coming out, those three are still very competitive. That's key when Democrats need to flip 24 seats.
SHAPIRO: Looks like this was a good night for women more broadly in Texas. Tell us about that.
MONTANARO: Yeah. It's really fascinating because half of the winners of the Democratic Congressional primaries were women. Yes, it's now all but guaranteed that Texas will send two Latinas to Congress, which is fascinating because with 4 in 10 people in Texas being Latino, it has never had a Latina sent to Congress.
SHAPIRO: What else stood out to you from last night's primary results?
MONTANARO: Well, look; primaries usually run on two things - money and enthusiasm. And there were signs that the grassroots enthusiasm was more important last night than money. I'll give you one example. There were four candidates who far outraised their opponents. They raised between them $9 million for 33,000 votes. When you break that down, it's $269 a vote.
MONTANARO: Not exactly money well spent.
MONTANARO: So now look. There's going to be lots of money that pours in from outside groups. Let's see, if this trend continues, if it's grassroots or if it's going to be that outside money.
SHAPIRO: Within the Democratic Party, Domenico, there's been a lot of tension in the last couple years between the more progressive, quote, unquote, "Bernie Sanders wing" and the more mainstream so-called Clinton wing. Are you continuing to see that play out now that we're in 2018 primary season?
MONTANARO: Well, that played out in one of these key Texas congressional races where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm that tries to elect Democrats to the House, actually took the rare step of putting out opposition research against a more progressive candidate because she said that she wouldn't want to move back to Paris, Texas, where her family is. Guess what? She made it into the runoff in that election, boosting her name ID. It was tremendous backlash because of that. And we're going to look on Tuesday to see in Pennsylvania if Conor Lamb, who's taken a more centrist approach...
SHAPIRO: This is a House race just outside of Pittsburgh.
MONTANARO: That's right - special election. We'll see if he can get through with that more centrist approach or if you're going to see liberals more fired up, wanting a more progressive message.
SHAPIRO: So the Democratic civil war is not over.
MONTANARO: Definitely not.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome, Ari.
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