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GOP Strategist On Primary Results


Results are in this morning after elections in eight states yesterday. Voters picked nominees for Senate seats, governorships and several key congressional races that could decide control of Congress this fall. The GOP is hoping to hold on to the House of Representatives. So how likely does that appear now that we have a sense of the nominees for the fall races? Let's put that question to Scott Jennings. He is a Republican strategist and a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

Scott, thanks for being here.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning. Thank you.

MARTIN: All right. Big picture - do yesterday's elections put the GOP in better or worse position to keep control of the House in particular?

JENNINGS: Well, I didn't look at the House races through the perspective of the Democrats. The burden of proof is on them. They have to win 23 seats to take over the United States House. And they avoided last night in California being locked out of any of the big races because of the jungle primary in California. Now, there was some belief that maybe they were going to get locked out of a couple of districts. That did not happen. So for the Democrats, they avoided a bad result.

And for the Republicans in California, they did nominate a candidate in the jungle primary for governor, which means they're going to get a turnout boost for their effort. So I would say overall, coming out of California last night, the status quo was maintained. And both parties got a result that they can feel decent about.

MARTIN: We should just say - you referred to it as the jungle primary. This is this two-tiered system where the top two vote-earners get to advance. That necessarily doesn't have to be a Democrat and a Republican. So when we say Democrats averted a disaster, they didn't get locked out. So it'll be interesting to see what happens in California. Also, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein - we should just note she advanced to the general election. That wasn't necessarily a given.

JENNINGS: Yeah. She had a bit of a rough go because some of the more liberal voters and activists in California thought perhaps she wasn't as solidly in the resistance as she ought to be. But she did advance. And my suspicion is she'll be re-elected to the United States Senate.

MARTIN: So if we think about the Republicans' chances through the prism of the Democrats, what did you make in New Jersey, where Democratic Senator Robert Menendez had kind of a tougher go of it?

JENNINGS: Yeah, really interesting primary here. Menendez had sort of a nameless and faceless opponent. And he only got 62 percent of the vote against this guy who didn't spend any money at all. You know, New Jersey is a blue state. It ought to be in the safe Democratic column. The Republicans have nominated someone named Bob Hugin, who is a real pro-Trump candidate but with deep pockets. He comes from the pharmaceutical industry. This is a wild-card race now, I think, because both parties have nominees that have interesting circumstances, interesting backgrounds.

They cannot take this Menendez issue for granted. He's got some corruption issues in his background that I think were driving some of his problems in the Democratic primary. The other thing going on in New Jersey is that, below the surface, there are a number of House races in New Jersey where Democrats feel like they need to win in order to get to the House majority. So while New Jersey is thought of as a blue state, I suspect there's going to be a lot going on there this fall because of some of the weird circumstances.

MARTIN: Where else did Republicans feel really good yesterday?

JENNINGS: Well, in Montana, the state auditor, Matt Rosendale, won the Republican Senate primary. So he'll take on Jon Tester in what I think is going to be one of the top 10 Senate races of the year. This is a huge red state where Donald Trump won a huge margin in 2016. And of course, the president's very upset with Jon Tester because of the way he treated his first VA secretary nominee, Ronny Jackson. I mean, if the president wanted to set up shop in Helena for a few days this fall, that wouldn't be a bad result for Mr. Rosendale.

The Republican primary was pretty peaceful, and Rosendale got boosted by some outside groups. So I'd say, if you believe that rural states are going one way and suburban and urban districts are going another, this is one of those places where Democrats cannot take for granted an incumbent. And the Republicans are gonna spend a lot of money to flip a Senate seat.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about President Trump's influence in these votes. I mean in particular in Alabama. What did you make of the fact that Congresswoman Martha Roby faces a runoff? And she made headlines for distancing herself from President Trump.

JENNINGS: Yeah, Martha Roby - it's an OK result. I do believe she will ultimately move on and go back to Congress. But she was held under the threshold and now has to face Bobby Bright. Bright, the Democrat she actually ran against before, when he was in the other party. And he will have a hard time, I think, in this runoff, principally because he once voted for Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House.

But Roby was critical of President Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. And Bright portrayed her as somebody who couldn't be a reliable Trump person. It goes to show you that Donald Trump does have a real hold on this party. And Republican primary candidates have to pay attention to that.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Scott Jennings for us this morning. Thanks so much, Scott.

JENNINGS: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.