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Democrats Perez And Sanders Aim To Put The Party Back Together Again


The new chairman of the Democratic Party is about to start a road trip with Bernie Sanders. They want to revitalize a party that's lost the White House and lost Congress. Their itinerary includes swing states like Florida and Nevada and red states like Kentucky, Nebraska, Texas, some more. Tom Perez is on the line to talk about all this. Mr. Chairman, welcome back to the program.

TOM PEREZ: Always good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you and Bernie Sanders represent two different wings of the party?

PEREZ: Oh, I think we stand for some basic propositions that all Democrats share, which is America works best when we work for everyone, when we're not just working for a few at the top. We believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. That's why we fought against the repeal of Obamacare.

And I think Democrats are at our best when we are united, when we put those values into action and when we tap into this grassroots energy that's really unprecedented in my lifetime. And that's why we're heading out there across America to talk about this message and to really translate this energy out there into action.

INSKEEP: But if we think about Bernie Sanders' approach to Wall Street and, say, the president you served, Barack Obama, his approach to Wall Street, they're a little different, aren't they?

PEREZ: Well, I think what unites us far exceeds what our differences are. And I think we've seen that, Steve, in recent weeks. You know, January 20 was undeniably an important day. But January 21, in my mind, was far more important because we've seen this...

INSKEEP: Oh, the big demonstrations the day after the inauguration, right.

PEREZ: Yeah, the demonstrations and the energy that you see out there is really unprecedented in my lifetime. And we see people coming together whether it's, again, defeating the Affordable Care Act repeal attempts, whether it's making sure we're standing up for fairness. You see Democrats coming together in ways I've not seen before.

The energy is palpable. And we need to have a 50-state-plus-all-the-territory strategy. Democrats all too frequently, we're not speaking to everyone everywhere. That's what we're doing this week, getting out there, making house calls.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because you are going to some very, very red states where Democrats keep hoping to do better than they have done. Democrats keep thinking maybe this will be the year for Texas. It hasn't been yet. Kentucky is a state where Democrats used to own the governorship. They don't have it now. What are you going to say differently to red states?

PEREZ: Well, we have to talk to people directly in every state. And frankly, we didn't always do that, Steve. And that's why we're out there in states like Utah and Texas and Kentucky and elsewhere - because I believe that people in Texas and Kentucky, Utah, they also understand that health care should be a right, not a privilege. They also understand that our economy works best when it works for everyone and not just for a few at the top. And so that's why we're taking this message out there.

INSKEEP: Our colleague, Scott Detrow, is going to be traveling along behind you for part of the trip. And he's in our studios. He's got a question for you.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah. I guess, you know, there was an election in a red state just last week. Democrats made a decision not to put a lot of money into the Kansas House race. And then Democrat James Thompson only just narrowly lost. Was that a mistake?

PEREZ: Well, we actually - we invested in the following ways. When people were out there knocking on doors, they were using the DNC's voter file. We were monitoring the election very closely with the state party. We did robocalls at their request. And to me, what's remarkable about that race is that is a beet-red district. Republicans usually win by about 30 to 35 points. They won by single digits.

If we replicate that success everywhere, we will flip the House in 2018. And we're making tremendous progress. We've already made investments in a race that will take place tomorrow in Georgia. We're investing in races like the Omaha mayor's race.

I've said that we need to elect Democrats from the school board to the Senate. And we're working on all types of races because we believe we can elect Democrats because our - the American people understand that our values are their values.

INSKEEP: Just time for a yes or no question. Will Democrats win in Georgia tomorrow?

PEREZ: Well, I hope so. We're fighting hard. And tomorrow is a jungle primary, so that there's...

INSKEEP: Many candidates, right.

PEREZ: ...Multiple candidates. And we hope we can get over 50 percent. And if not, we'll keep fighting later for the final election. But we have a great set of candidates down there.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much. Have a nice trip.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure to be with you.

INSKEEP: That's Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who's going to be touring with Bernie Sanders. And, Scott Detrow, what do you think about what you just heard?

DETROW: You know, I think there's certainly a lot of anti-Trump energy in terms of Democratic voters, grassroots activists. The question is does that become pro-Democrat energy as well? And I think right now that's an open answer. There's a lot of frustration going back to last year with the DNC, with Democrats in Congress from the people that Perez and other Democrats need to have energized.

INSKEEP: OK. Scott, well, we'll be listening for your reporting as that tour goes forward in the coming days. That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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