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Republican-Flipped Districts Gives GOP Candidates 'A Little Bit Of An Edge'


We're going to talk politics now, but we're going local. We're going to dig into the results from some of the state and local elections in parts of the country earlier this month. You might remember that last weekend we spoke with a group of newly elected Democrats who took over seats that had been held by Republicans, continuing a trend from the 2014 midterm elections, where Democrats made big gains not only in Congress but in governor's races, where they picked up seven seats and some state legislatures and on down the ballot. But that is not the whole story.

In some places, the trend is going in the opposite direction. Republican candidates took over seats formerly held by Democrats. In Pennsylvania, for example, while the Democratic Party celebrated historic wins in the Philadelphia suburbs, Republicans in the western part of the state were able to take control of several county commissions. And in Kentucky, while Republican Governor Matt Bevin conceded defeat to Democrat Andy Beshear, voters elected a Republican secretary of state for only the second time since 1972.

So we wanted to know more about who some of these newly elected politicians are, what their ideas are and what they think their victories might mean for the 2020 election. So we've called upon Nick Sherman. He recently won a seat on the Washington County Commission. That's in western Pennsylvania. Mr. Sherman, welcome.

NICK SHERMAN: Well, thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: That means that Diana Irey Vaughan has company for the first time in 20 years. She just won her seventh term in Washington County. She's been serving on the commission since 1995. Diana Irey Vaughan, welcome to you as well.

DIANA IREY VAUGHAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And also joining us is Michael Adams. He was recently elected as secretary of state for Kentucky. It had been an open seat, but had previously been held by a Democrat. Mr. Adams, welcome to you as well.

MICHAEL ADAMS: Thanks so much.

MARTIN: All right. So, Nick Sherman, I'm going to start with you. What made you want to run?

SHERMAN: Well, my background is human services. I have done domestic abuse counseling. I work with children with opioid addiction and drug and alcohol problems. Working in that field for a long time has given me a really good insight on county government. And I saw a real opportunity for me to take my area of expertise and to help many, many people who are having these issues. And that was kind of the start of it. And here we are now as a newly elected county commissioner.

MARTIN: Well, what kinds of things did voters talk to you about while you were campaigning?

SHERMAN: We've got a bunch of great things going on in Washington County. But the big negative that we have is that we have struggled with the opioid crisis for quite some time. I think that what voters liked about me is I actually have real experience working with these issues. I think that was something that really resonated with a lot of the voters out here.

MARTIN: OK. Diana Irey Vaughan, how about you pick up the thread there? Tell me about the makeup of the district.

IREY VAUGHAN: When I first took office in 1996, the registration difference was 2 1/2 to one, Democrat over Republican. We have been closing that gap. However, in addition to closing the gap, we have seen voting trends of a more conservative platform towards Republicans in a number of races. When I took office, every state representative was of the Democrat Party. Now every state representative is in the Republican Party. So we believed that this was an opportunity to potentially flip the board.

MARTIN: What about you, Mr. Adams? As I mentioned, you had an open seat, but the seat had previously been held by a Democrat. I mean, Kentucky tends to lean conservative. But what do you think were the major factors in your race?

ADAMS: Kentucky is a conservative state, but it's also a Democratic state. This is a state that likes to elect Democrats when it feels that it can. When the issues are national, they tend to be more cultural and social. But when they are local issues, when they are state issues, they tend to be more fiscal. And people prefer to vote for Democrats if they can justify it.

MARTIN: What do you - what were some of the policies or messages that you put forward during the campaign that you think made a difference to voters?

ADAMS: Well, in my race specifically, I was running against a former Miss America, a very well-known household name. She ran on her personality, and I ran on policy. I ran on requiring a photo ID to vote in Kentucky elections. Our law does not require that. I ran on cleaning up our voter rolls. We have some 300,000 people identified in a federal lawsuit as people who should not be on our voter rolls. They've died or they've moved out of the state. So I ran on those specific issues. There's a lot more talk about these issues on both sides than there used to be.

MARTIN: Well, that's true. And, in fact, some people consider those issues voter suppression tactics by the Republicans. Did - was that argument made, and how did you answer that?

ADAMS: My opponent didn't really make the argument. There was an outside group supporting my opponent that made the argument. Obviously, it wasn't successful.

MARTIN: So do you think, Mr. Adams, that your race has anything to tell us about what might be coming up in 2020?

ADAMS: Well, I think that Kentucky is like the rest of the country. You're seeing in the rural areas increasingly conservative, Republican voting. And you're seeing in the urban areas increasingly Democratic, liberal voting. I live in Louisville in Jefferson County. I lost it by 35 points. It was my worst county. I spent a lot of money on television here. I worked it really hard locally. But there's just a straight ticket Democratic effect in Jefferson County. What you're seeing in the rural areas are people who are voting straight ticket Republican. Now you're seeing them vote Democratic straight ticket in the urban areas. It's a real divide.

MARTIN: So what about that, Diana Irey Vaughan? What about that? I mean, as we said earlier, the Democrats did well in suburban areas that had traditionally been Republican strongholds. But Republicans gained control of county commissions and more counties on Tuesday, three in western Pennsylvania. So what do you think that means?

IREY VAUGHAN: Washington County is a suburb of Pittsburgh. We're the county just outside, 20 miles south of a major city. So that had an impact. And Washington County is doing extremely well with the energy industries. And largely, our citizens are very supportive of the gas industry. And I think that had an impact and has had an impact, leaning more towards conservative and Republican votes.

MARTIN: So what do you think it means for 2020, if anything?

IREY VAUGHAN: I think this gives Republican candidates a little bit of an edge. But I can tell you that, you know, things change so quickly in politics. And, you know, there could be a scandal come out, something that hits that the voters lose faith in that party. You see it flip all the time. But if the trends continue, I think, you know, the counties outside of the Pittsburgh immediate area, they're going to lean more Republican.

MARTIN: And before we let each of you go, I was curious about, you know, what your message is in a time like this where, you know, the - a lot of the conversation is just about how polarized people are politically. A lot of, you know, whatever side you're on, people on both sides feel like the other side doesn't care what they think, is kind of shoving it down their throats and so forth. And I just wonder, what do you see as your role right now? Nick Sherman, I'm just going to start with you because, you know, you mentioned the opioid crisis. That's affecting everybody. That's not just affecting Republicans or Democrats. So how do you - yeah.

SHERMAN: You hit the nail on the head. These aren't Republican issues, and these aren't Democratic issues. You know, I feel the divide. There's no better polling or way to take a pulse than to go knock on someone's door. And I remember the one lady specifically in a very, very Democrat area. I knocked on her door, and she said, I would never vote for a Republican. And I completely disagree with Donald Trump. And she had some other choice words to say to me.

And I said, Miss, that's OK because I just came to introduce myself to you. And I understand that you don't agree with all Republicans. And I understand that you don't agree with the president. But I just wanted to come and personally introduce myself to you. And it's OK that we disagree. But it's important that we don't fight with each other. And she was very, very taken aback by that. And then we had a great conversation. When I left, she shook my hand. And she said, you're going to be the first Republican that I voted for in a very long time.

MARTIN: Diana Irey Vaughan, what about you? As you said, I'm sure you're looking forward to not being the sole Republican on your panel. But do you feel you have any message for people who didn't agree with you, didn't vote for you?

IREY VAUGHAN: Yes. I really believe that the messaging we had about elections, about addressing the opioid crisis and a number of different things resonated with the voters. I think the voters are paying more attention to what's going on locally than they used to.

MARTIN: And, Michael Adams, what about you? Do you feel - as we've noted, it's been a very polarized time. Do you feel like you have any particular role in addressing that or not? I'm not leading you here. I'm just curious.

ADAMS: I absolutely do. You know, it's concerning. A lot of Democrats think that Republicans are trying to steal elections through photo ID, through purging of voter rolls, through dark money. A lot of Republicans think the Democrats are trying to steal elections through the dead voting or through illegal immigrants voting or what have you. Both sides distrust the other, and that's pretty terrifying.

So, actually, the first thing that I did as secretary of state-elect was we had a contentious election for governor decided by very few votes. We had a recanvass, a checking of all the vote totals. And the incumbent Democratic secretary of state who's outgoing invited me, a professional election lawyer for Republicans, to co-observe the recanvass process. And so I joined with her in front of TV cameras and pronounced the process fair and bipartisan.

And that really made everybody, I think, feel a lot better. I think Democrats felt better that I was joining with a Democratic official and blessing what she was doing. And it also showed the Republicans that I was there to observe and confirm that everything was being done appropriately. I thought that was an important message to send.

MARTIN: That was Michael Adams. He was just elected secretary of state in Kentucky. Mr. Adams, thank you so much for joining us.

ADAMS: Thank you, my pleasure.

MARTIN: We were also joined by Nick Sherman. He has just been elected to his first term in the county commission in Washington County, Pa. Mr. Sherman, thank you so much for joining us.

SHERMAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And he is keeping Diana Irey Vaughan company for the first time in 20 years. She was just elected to her seventh term as a Washington County commissioner. She's been serving there since 1995. Diana Irey Vaughan, thank you so much for joining us as well.

IREY VAUGHAN: It was a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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