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RNC's Spring Meeting Will Focus On Upcoming Midterm Elections


OK. It's normal for the majority party to lose some seats in the midterm election, but Republicans know this is not a normal year. Democrats are rallying their base and outraising Republicans in critical races, and the list of Republican lawmakers choosing to step down is getting longer. Republicans know they have their work cut out for them, and they're strategizing about how to do that work, this week in Florida at the annual RNC conference. John Whitbeck is the chairman of Virginia's Republican Party, and he joins me now from the conference in South Florida.

Mr. Whitbeck, thanks for being with us.

JOHN WHITBECK: Well, good morning.

MARTIN: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said earlier this year that Democrats will, quote, "crawl over broken glass to vote in November." How are you feeling? Are you worried about the midterms?

WHITBECK: Well, you know, particularly concerned about it in Virginia because we have seven of 11 congressional seats held by Republicans, and we believe that three of the most targeted races are going to be in our commonwealth. So it is something we've got to take very seriously. Democrats are on fire right now to vote, and we're going to have to turn out more voters on our side.

MARTIN: We had Republican Congressman Charlie Dent on this week. He's one of the 43 House Republicans so far who've announced that they're going to leave office. I want to play a little bit of what he told us, and we'll talk on the other side.


CHARLIE DENT: I believe that Donald Trump's presidency has certainly, you know, contributed to this, you know, toxic environment. And I believe that this election will be a referendum on the president of the United States and his conduct in office. Simple as that. So I think many Republican members of Congress are in a difficult spot with respect to how to, you know, manage the president.

MARTIN: Is this, in your view, a referendum on the president?

WHITBECK: No. Congress and the Senate are a little different than just a referendum on a president, any midterm election. Congressional races, a lot of these candidates and the incumbents are going to run on local issues. They have local contacts. They have a local record. And I think that's going to carry the day versus what the president's done or what the president will do. I think, you know, considering the successes of this administration so far, I think our people will be happy to run on the president's achievements so far, and I think that'll help us.

MARTIN: President Trump is trying to gin up Republican enthusiasm in his own way. This is what he told a crowd over the weekend.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to keep the House. Because if you listen to Maxine Waters...


TRUMP: ...she goes around saying, we will impeach him. We will impeach him.

MARTIN: The president there referencing Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters. So what do you think? Do you think that's a winning message for the GOP to inspire your voters to come out to the polls, to keep the president from being impeached?

WHITBECK: Well, I'll make two points on that. Number one, absolutely right. If the Democrats take the House, they will impeach this president. And it's coming, if they have the majority. Number one. Number two, there is a certain type of voter that's not necessarily Republican. There are Trump - we call them Trump voters, very simply. Those voters tend to vote more Republican and tend to vote in only off-year elections in many cases. Or, not in off-year elections in many cases. Those voters have to be motivated to turn out. They're part of what we need to win. And they've come because the president activates them and makes them enthusiastic. And so the president's trying to motivate those voters that may not necessarily vote in the midterm to come out and vote Republican this time.

MARTIN: So how do you do that when the signature achievement of the GOP thus far has been the tax bill that largely benefits corporations, and many people who consider themselves to be Trump voters who are at the bottom rung of middle class or working class haven't seen nearly the benefit that those corporations have seen with these tax cuts?

WHITBECK: Well, I reject the premise of your question. I think this tax cut helps all Americans. But I think what those people are looking for is a message from the GOP that we're going to follow through on the promises that were made in 2016. And the president has kept his promises. He's done what he said he was going to do. Deregulation, foreign policy successes, border security. All the things that this president promised to do, he's getting done a lot of that. And I think that's why those people are going to turn out, if they're going to turn out because he has done what he promised he would do.

MARTIN: Although you say you reject the premise of the question about the tax cuts, Republican Senator Marco Rubio was interviewed by The Economist recently and said, quote, "there is no evidence whatsoever that the money's been massively poured back into the American economy." So how do you sell that as a win to the American worker, whose vote you need in November?

WHITBECK: Well, the American worker's going to be voting on the fact that the economy is doing well. Consumer confidence is high. Everything, all the indicators of a good, solid economy. Job creation. All the things that we look at are all there. And that's what's going to motivate them, not some statement by Marco Rubio, you know, in a swing state. You know, he's a senator in a swing state. I just don't see that as being - you know, the average American worker in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin are not going to be motivated by Marco Rubio.

MARTIN: John Whitbeck. He's the Virginia state chair of the Republican National Committee, talking to us from the RNC conference happening right now in South Florida. Mr. Whitbeck, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

WHITBECK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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