Special Elections Upcoming After Trump Cabinet Members Leave Congress

Apr 9, 2017
Originally published on April 9, 2017 9:16 pm
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When President Trump began looking to staff his administration, his search took him to the House of Representatives. Vacancies there by now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are being filled in special elections. Both men represented usually reliably Republican areas, one in Georgia, the other in Kansas. But in this new age of unpredictable politics, these contests have become surprising vehicles for Democratic opposition to Trump. NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor has been following these races, and she's here to talk about them with us. Hey, Jessica.

JESSICA TAYLOR, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Voting this Tuesday; next Tuesday, the race on the 18 has gotten, though, most of the attention. It's Tom Price's seat in Georgia. What are the chances of an upset?

TAYLOR: They're surprisingly good. And this is the type of district that's primed for an upset. You know, Trump was successful at flipping blue-collar districts in Michigan and Wisconsin, but his Achilles heel were these suburban, affluent, growing, diverse districts in places like this, the northern Atlanta suburbs. Romney won this district easily four years ago, but Trump won it by just one point. So you have Democrat Jon Ossoff there. He's a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer. He's raised an eye-popping $8.3 million for this race.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow.

TAYLOR: But the caveat is that 95 percent of this came from out of the state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So saying that there's a lot of opposition to Trump around the country but maybe not a lot of support for him in the district that he's running.

TAYLOR: Right. He's hovering at about 40 percent IN sort of this really big, all-party primary, 18-candidate field, so he really needs a knockout punch to sort of win this on the first go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm curious, if Ossoff does win, what message does that send to the Republicans?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, Democrats are going to say this shows that we can run on this anti-Trump resistance, that their progressive movement - dormant - has sort of gained new life. And that's what Republicans don't want to happen. So that's why they're pouring a lot of money into trying to defeat him to at least get into the runoff. So they've spent over $4 million on ads, really trying to tear him down, hitting him for padding his resume and for taking money from Al Jazeera as a filmmaker. So here's one ad that sort of shows how far they're going, Congressional Leadership Fund, here.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Al Jazeera - a media outlet that has been described as a mouthpiece for terrorists - has been paying Jon Ossoff thousands of dollars. But Jon refuses to tell voters exactly how much money he's received.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that's Georgia. What's happening this Tuesday in Kansas with the CIA director, Mike Pompeo's, seat?

TAYLOR: This one's a lot closer than it should be. Republicans still have an edge there. So this seat, Trump won pretty easily - 27 points. But you have a possible low turnout election, and you have some Kansas Republicans grumbling that their nominee, State Treasurer Ron Estes, hasn't run the best campaign. So you have national Republicans really sort of sending in their cavalry at the last minute, which shows just how worried they are. They're running ads hitting Democrat James Thompson for his support on abortion rights. Vice President Pence is making robocalls. And then you have Ted Cruz campaigning with Estes on Monday. I think Estes will probably pull it out, but if it's closer than expected, I think that only gives Democrats more momentum as sort of optimism going into the contest a week later in Georgia.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor. Jessica, thanks so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

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