The Call-In: Politics In Your Community NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks with Democratic strategist Celinda Lake and Republican strategist Whit Ayres about politics and political strategy ahead of November's midterm elections.
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The Call-In: Politics In Your Community

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The Call-In: Politics In Your Community

The Call-In: Politics In Your Community

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This is The Call-In.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Get ready, folks. This fall, midterms are coming. You called in with the issues you think are important to hear about during these elections, issues like climate change, education, abortion and guns. Here's Robin Bauman from Miami, Fla.

ROBIN BAUMAN: My recommendation is that we should elect candidates in Florida with a stance to tighten gun regulations by increasing thorough background checks, closing gun purchase loopholes and removing assault weapons from our community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's a view echoed throughout this weekend's March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence. And it's where we want to start our discussion around the midterm elections. Joining us now is Celinda Lake. She's a Democratic pollster and political strategist.

CELINDA LAKE: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And also with us is Whit Ayres. He's a Republican pollster and political strategist, too. Hi.

WHIT AYRES: Hi. Good to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We've had rallies around the country for gun control, so I want to start with that. I want to hear from both of you. Celinda, is this an issue that either side can run on?

LAKE: Oh, it's definitely an issue that either side can run on. Something has really changed here with the Parkland students, and I think lots of candidates will respond across geography and across party.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Whit, you know, gun control has always been a rallying point for the Republicans - people, obviously, worried that it may mean that they'll take away their guns. Do you think that this is an issue that's going to cause some problems for the Republicans?

AYRES: Not really. If you look at the reaction in Florida, a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor passed a reasonable bill that I think many Americans could get behind. So I agree with Celinda. In many ways, the reaction to this shooting and the common sense reforms that are in the Florida bill I think can cut across party lines and get bipartisan support.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's look at the bigger picture here. You have many different wings in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party is very divided between its progressive wing and the more establishment wing. A lot of the energy is coming from the progressive wing, who want to see a real change. So where does that leave you?

LAKE: I think those differences are important, and I think they represent policies. But I actually don't think they're as politically important because what we're finding is our differences are so much less than our agreement. What is coming out of the Ryan Congress, the Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump is so far from anything that any of us believes in. That ought to unite the Democrats.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Whit, you also have a similar problem, which, you know, you are seeing some of these candidates getting through in the primaries that are viewed as extreme even within the Republican Party. How do you run these candidates at a time when it is very polarized among the electorate?

AYRES: The Republican Party is a big tent and, obviously, has a lot of people with very different views. What you say is certainly true. In the past...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems all the moderates are getting pushed out. They're the ones that are resigning from Congress. They're the ones that's saying, hey, you know, this looks pretty ugly for me. I'm going to exit stage left.

AYRES: There's no question. In the past, we've left about five Senate seats on the table by nominating candidates that were out of step with their state or their district. But we're very fortunate in the Senate races that only a third of the Senate is up. And probably the most Republican third of the Senate is the seats that are up this year. And we stand a very good chance of holding onto the Senate, if not expanding the majority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it not a concern for you, though, when you see the moderates in the Republican Party, the incumbents saying, I'm not going to run? I don't feel that I can be part of this party at this particular time?

AYRES: We need to have candidates who are well in tune with their districts or their states. And that is always true, and you never want to lose someone who has been a good representative for their district or their state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's a concern.

AYRES: How could it not be?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about the leadership because, obviously, leadership on both sides is an issue. I'll start, you know, Celinda, with you. We all know that Nancy Pelosi has become a lightning rod in many ways. The Republican Party has actually been using her as something to campaign against. How problematic do you see that?

LAKE: Well, I'm not sure I accept your premise, honestly. So I don't think a lot of voters care either way about whether - about Nancy Pelosi in their...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I talked to voters in Pennsylvania, and some of them told me that they did not want Pennsylvania to turn into California...

LAKE: I'm sure they did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There were a lot of ads running, talking about...

LAKE: Because there were a lot of ads. You know...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talking about Nancy Pelosi.

LAKE: ...Honestly, if the only thing you have to use against our Democrats right now is that - Nancy Pelosi, then we are going to take back the House. You better find something else to run on.

AYRES: I mean, they're all octogenarians, and those are the names you associate with the Democratic Party. It's hard to be the party of the future if all of your leaders are around 80 years old.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's look at the Republican side of the aisle and your leadership. Paul Ryan's tenure has been problematic, as well, for many in the Republican Party. Many question his leadership and the relationship he has with the president. How do you see it?

AYRES: I think you should look at the results of the Republican House and the Republican Senate. The fact is they have passed a number of pieces of legislation that are very successful and very popular - not just the tax bill. But a lot of the deregulatory initiatives, I think, are very, very important for the future of our economy and the future growth of our economy. And I think that it gives a solid record for the Republicans to run on in 2018.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to close by asking you - I know it's always a little problematic but, you know, your predictions. There is a prediction of a blue wave. I mean, do you see that? What - do you think that that's actually going to happen?

AYRES: Virtually, every midterm election after a president is elected results in the president's party losing seats. The real question is how many seats. And I think the Republicans have a fighting chance to hold those losses to the point where they can still maintain control of the House, at least at this stage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Celinda?

LAKE: We're going to have to work very hard for that wave. We're going to have to lay out a program that is meaningful, that is a winning program. I believe that's a progressive program. That will draw real contrast not just with Donald Trump but with the Republicans in Congress. And I think they will be on the losing side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners and Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research. Thank you both so very much.

AYRES: Thanks for being with you.

LAKE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KETTEL'S "CLARITY")

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