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What Tuesday's Primary Results Say About The Midterms This Fall


Democrats are breathing a big sigh of relief today about the midterm elections.


GAVIN NEWSOM: This is only the first half of the election calendar, but thanks to you, the halftime score is looking very promising.

SHAPIRO: That's Democrat Gavin Newsom, who will be on the ballot this November running for governor of California. Also in the state, Democrats were worried about spoiling their chances of competing in some of the key districts that they're going to need if they hope to take back control of the House of Representatives. They did not get shut out of those districts.

Republicans had some good news last night, too. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk through what these new results mean for the rest of the midterm election campaign. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with the Democrats because they had the most at stake last night. What happened?

LIASSON: What happened is the Democrats, as you said, were in danger of being shut out because California uses a top-two primary system - the top two vote-getters go on to the general election - could be two Democrats, two Republicans. But because Democrats had so many candidates running, they were worried that they would split the Democratic vote and two Republicans would get through and go on to the general election. That didn't happen.

There are seven competitive districts held by Republicans in California. The Democrats think they have a chance to flip. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intervened. They spent a tremendous amount of money, and they managed to get a Democrat on the general election ballot in every one of these races.

SHAPIRO: And those seven seats would go a long way towards the 23 that Democrats need to regain control of the House.

LIASSON: That's right. And if you're going to - if there's going to be a wave in the fall, these Democratic candidates want to be in the surf with their surfboards ready to catch it. So they got on the ballot.

SHAPIRO: Republicans also had some good news in California in the governor's race. They got somebody into the race in November, and that wasn't a certain thing. How important is that?

LIASSON: No. They were in danger of being shut out in the governor's race, but Donald Trump took a personal interest in this race. He encouraged Republicans to turn out for John Cox. Republicans have seen their fortunes fall in California. There are now fewer Republicans in California than independents or Democrats. They are in third place.


LIASSON: But now you've got a Republican on the ticket for governor. That makes Republicans feel that he'll help boost turnout for Republicans in down-ballot races.

But Democrats argue they also dodged a bullet because now Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who you heard at the top of the segment - he is going to run against John Cox, the Republican, instead of running against the former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. If he had done that, it would've been an Anglo-Democrat versus a Hispanic Democrat - a really ugly intraparty fight. Instead, he gets a Trump-aligned Republican to run against...


LIASSON: ...And to motivate his voters in the most anti-Trump state in the country.

SHAPIRO: Probably just became a much cheaper election.

LIASSON: Yes, yes.

SHAPIRO: Beyond California, did you see President Trump having an impact in other states?

LIASSON: Yes. One big theme in these Republican primaries has been the race among Republicans to be the bigger Trump fan. And in Alabama, a Republican congresswoman named Martha Roby had a strike against her because she unendorsed Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. She was personally offended by it, and she - that was a mark against her.

She has now been forced into a runoff with a candidate who is a very new Republican - a Democrat who switched to be a Republican, who's run against her as a Democrat in the past. Now she can frame the runoff election as a race between a woman who was offended by the "Access Hollywood" tape versus someone who actually voted for Nancy Pelosi.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.