RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Voters in several states went to the polls yesterday, and the results are in - sort of. Two big races are still undecided this morning, the GOP primary in Kansas where Trump supporter Kris Kobach is running an insurgent campaign against the state's governor, Jeff Colyer. And the special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District is still up in the air. But even if the Republican, Troy Balderson, edges out the Democrat, Danny O'Connor, in that race, Democrats will feel pretty good because this is a solidly red district. What, if anything, could this portend for the November midterms, where the control of the House and possibly the Senate is up for grabs?
Jesse Hunt is the press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. He is in our studios this morning. Jesse, thanks for coming in.
JESSE HUNT: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So Troy Balderson leads but by less than 1 percentage point in this Ohio race. President Trump won this district by 11 points. Why is this race so close?
HUNT: Well, we feel that when all the votes are counted - right now, they're counting provisional ballots. And barring any sort of last-minute change, there doesn't appear to be a recount in the works. But when every legal vote is counted, we believe that Troy Balderson will be the victor in this race. Right now, in this type of a race - special elections have these unique factors at play that don't really, you know, become an issue in the fall general election swing. Everyone is fighting over the same square inch of turf. Liberal donors from New York and California flood the district with dollars that allow candidates like Danny O'Connor and some of the other Democrats in these special efforts that we've seen to really have an advantage when it comes to spending.
MARTIN: But you guys had to spend a lot of money, too. What's the price tag on that? What did your party have to spend on this election?
HUNT: I believe it was a little over $3 million. But this is the difference. Democrat candidates get a better rate. They get more bang for their buck. So we had to spend to try to level the playing field to help our candidate. That is something that's not going to take place in the fall where we have very well-known, strong incumbents who maintain a healthy cash-on-hand advantage and a name-ID advantage. That's going to be a tough mountain to overcome for Democrats this fall.
MARTIN: President Trump tweeted last night. I'm going to read this. He said, (reading) when I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64-36. That was not good. After my speech Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting.
First, we should say, Balderson has not won yet. Second, the president's popularity in Ohio has been steadily slipping in that state since January, especially among women and independents. So if Troy Balderson, the Republican, wins this race - if he edges out, is it because of President Trump or despite him?
HUNT: We actually, during the final stages of the campaign, had a really strong team effort. We had Governor Kasich come and release a TV ad in support of Troy Balderson; we had the president come in; we had the vice president come in - all to help engage Republican voters. And we saw that there was a significant uptick in enthusiasm and engagement.
But also, the final weeks of the campaign, it was defined by a moment that was created by Chris Matthews and Danny O'Connor on MSNBC when Chris Matthews pressed Danny O'Connor over his supposed opposition to Nancy Pelosi. But in the end of the interview, he admitted what everyone knows. When faced with a decision between voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker or a Republican, House Democrats will side with Nancy Pelosi every single time. And that really became a defining moment in the last stages of the campaign that will certainly play out later as we move into the fall with other Democratic candidates.
MARTIN: I mean, that's how Republicans like to frame this race. And they use Nancy Pelosi as a foil a lot. But nevertheless, this was an election that Donald Trump carried by 11 points. This cannot be where the GOP wants to be coming up to the midterm elections. What lessons do you take away from this?
HUNT: We need to be engaged as much as we possibly can. Our candidates need to be prepared to execute strong campaigns. You cannot get outspent 5-1 on a candidate level. That is not going to be a feasible strategy come this fall. But what we can see - we did see - is that we have an ability to motivate our voters. We do have an ability to win over persuadable voters because voters in districts across the country will reject Nancy Pelosi and her agenda. And every single vote for a Democrat is a vote to put Nancy Pelosi back in power.
MARTIN: I mean, we should also point out - every special election since President Trump was elected, Democrats may not have won these votes, but they've gotten close. And they have made major gains in very red states. That's not where you want to be. If you want to keep the House, what needs to change? Does this need to be an election about issues, or is this about Donald Trump? What is this election about for the GOP?
HUNT: Moral victories don't get you any closer to the majority in Congress. So a win is a win. But most of these races come down to local issues. And we feel that our incumbent members have been laser-focused on local issues - like the opioid epidemic in districts, like flight patterns out in Southern California. That's something that Dana Rohrabacher has been very focused on. (Unintelligible).
MARTIN: Flight patterns. But I have to point out, former adviser to President Trump Steve Bannon told ABC News earlier this summer, the secret to GOP victories in November is for candidates to act as if Trump is on the ballot. Do you think that's a good idea? Should this be a referendum on the president?
HUNT: The president has an ability to motivate Republican voters. That is for sure. But we believe this election's going to come down to the local issues that voters actually care about. They're not as concerned about the cable news chatter that we see every day going about, you know, different issues that kind of take place at a 30,000-foot level. They care about issues that impact their daily lives - whether or not they can put food on the table for their families, whether or not they can afford that August vacation that they've been planning. And we believe that a roaring economy and a laser-like focus on local issues will help benefit us in the fall and help us maintain our Republican majority for yet another cycle.
MARTIN: All right. Jesse Hunt, he is the press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee - in our studios this morning talking about the election results, specifically in Ohio, where the race there in the 12th District is still too close to call. Jesse, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
HUNT: Great. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.