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DNC Chairman Tom Perez Outlines What Themes Resonated With Democrats This Midterm


OK. The very first election results are trickling in this hour, and they will be scoured for clues about whether the blue wave Democrats have been promising will become real tonight. Democrats are navigating two very different maps between the House and the Senate. And joining us now to talk about the party's prospects is the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez. Welcome.

TOM PEREZ: Ailsa, it's great to be with you.

CHANG: I want to start with just a quick temperature check. I mean, polls started closing in Indiana earlier this hour. How confident are you that Democrats can continue making showings, strong showings, in conservative states like Indiana?

PEREZ: Well, we've become a 50-state party, and your most recent story here about Kansas is a great illustration of that. We're competing everywhere. We're organizing everywhere. The number of governors' races that are in play - South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, all of the industrial Midwest, Wisconsin, Illinois, et cetera and not to mention New Mexico, Georgia, Florida and Maine and elsewhere - this is a 50-state strategy in action. And I feel very optimistic about the House. I know the Senate is a narrower path, but I'm very bullish about Jacky Rosen in Nevada. And I'm bullish because the early vote there was really solid. Clark County, which is Las Vegas, that's where you bank your votes and you bank your advantage. And we're expanding that advantage today.

CHANG: Let me ask you about this 50-state strategy because after the 2016 election, there was widespread acknowledgement among Democrats that you guys needed to do a better job reconnecting with working-class, white voters. If your Senate candidates don't win in places like North Dakota or Missouri or Indiana, is that a sign that Democrats have more work to do?

PEREZ: Ailsa, we need to reconnect better with all voters. We need to reconnect better with African-American voters in Detroit or Alabama or elsewhere. We need to reconnect better with Latinos and Asian-Americans. We need to reconnect with the union member in Conor Lamb's district that voted for Obama but then voted for Trump.

CHANG: But how do you reconnect with working-class, white voters? How do Democrats do that?

PEREZ: By organizing, by listening. I think good leaders are good listeners. And we've been listening, and the No. 1 issue we hear from voters of all races and ethnicities, geographies, is health care. They want to make sure that their loved one with a pre-existing condition can get access to health care. The second issue we hear most frequently is education. People want their children to have a bright future. And all of the disinvestment in public education, some at a state level in places like Kansas and Oklahoma and some at a federal level by this administration, it is hurting our future. And that is why we are competing everywhere. That's why I think we're going to take the House. That's why I continue to have optimism about the Senate because of the four states where we're playing offense.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about Latino voters. You mentioned them as people you do need to outreach to obviously. Latino voters turn out in relatively low numbers to vote, but now with President Trump hammering home his message about illegal immigration, about the caravan, about ending birthright citizenship, why haven't Democrats been able to better capitalize on that and drum up more support among Latino voters?

PEREZ: Well, we'll see tonight. We've invested a lot, not just here at the DNC but with our partners in the broader ecosystem. For instance, we've had organizers on the ground for many months in central Pennsylvania where you have literally tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who had to leave the mainland after Maria, settled in central Pennsylvania. We purchased cellphone numbers with the 787 area code from Puerto Rico. We were able to identify these voters. And the first question we always ask them is, how can we help?

And we're building those relationships in Florida, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. And 86 percent of Latinos in the most recent poll I said - or read indicated that they had a very strong interest in voting. And we've been working hard toward that end. Let's face it - Donald Trump has put the fear of God into them. He's trying to - he's trying to scare them into not voting, and we cannot allow that to happen.

CHANG: Let's talk about in the last minute we have left - you say you're feeling good about the House. If Democrats do retake the House tonight, do you think it's worthwhile for Democrats to spend a lot of energy next year investigating President Trump?

PEREZ: Well, we have to hold him accountable. The reason why we're going to take over the House - and I still say that we've got a pathway to the Senate as well - is because people understand the culture of corruption that's here. What we're also going to be doing, though, is focusing on issues that matter most to people. We're going to be focusing on making sure we protect access to health care for people, focus on an infrastructure bill that puts people to work...

CHANG: But on investigating the president, is there a risk of overreach there?

PEREZ: Well, I think this - you look at the culture of corruption and the number of agency heads who've had to resign or are about to resign in disgrace because of ethical lapses is off the charts. You're wasting taxpayer money. In some cases, they may have been involved in criminal misconduct.


PEREZ: Oversight is a very important role.

CHANG: That's Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks very much.

PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.