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What California District Attorney Chesa Boudin's recall means for Democrats

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

What do yesterday's results tell us about the Democratic Party at this moment, just months out from the midterms? I'm joined by Matt Bennett. He's co-founder of Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington. Thanks for being on the program, Matt.

MATT BENNETT: Morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So what's your take on what happened in these two local elections?

BENNETT: Well, I think what you're seeing in these two big elections is a microcosm of what Democrats are facing nationally. On the one hand, Boudin is a far-left politician and candidate. And he - while he might be singular, as your former guest just said, he speaks very loudly, and as the far left of our party tends to do. And that has impact not only for himself, obviously - he lost that race because he went too far even for Democrats in San Francisco - but it has impact nationally. And I think what happened in the Bass race, where she's now in a runoff in a race that she had been expected to win, is she's a very mainstream Democrat. She's the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She was on the short list for vice president for Biden. But she's kind of caught up in the same narrative about what - who Democrats are on crime that a lot of other mainstream Democrats are. And that's going to be a real issue in the fall.

FADEL: But how much of this is due to a really well-funded anti-progressive campaign from law enforcement unions, Conservatives? Because it's not like a spike in crime is exclusive to cities led by progressive officials.

BENNETT: It is not. And some of that has certainly had a big impact here. And there's been a lot of money that's flowed in from the right. But I think you have to recognize that...

FADEL: Yeah.

BENNETT: ...It's also true that Democrats have spoken loudly when they've weighed in on these issues in the last year or so. In New York City, Eric Adams won by running as a tough-on-crime Democrat. In Minneapolis, they had a referendum on defunding the police that lost overwhelmingly. And the people who voted for it - voted against the referendum in the biggest numbers were people in Black and brown communities. And I think you're seeing that kind of all over the country.

FADEL: You know, as Steve and Marisa noted, there are several issues that could drive voters for the midterms. But deadly gun violence is spiking. And it seems like Democratic voters last night were saying they're unhappy with how the left is handling crime or impatient for results from efforts to address the deeper issues at play. How big of a problem might this pose for the party on the national level with the midterms coming up?

BENNETT: Well, I think Joe Biden has taken real steps to address the problem nationally in terms of the Democratic brand on crime. You heard him in the State of the Union say that we should fund the police, not defund. That was reflected in his budget. And he's been very clear about this from the beginning, even when he was running for president as a candidate. So our hope is that the national brand has shifted on this and that these issues will be less potent in the fall. But I think what we saw in 2020 was defund the police had an enormous impact on people, Democrats, running in marginal districts. You know, we lost 14 House Democrats on the same ballot that Joe Biden won in part because of defund. The aggressive effort to turn that around hopefully will have had impact by November.

FADEL: Now, a lot of progressives came to office when Democratic voters marched against excessive policing in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd and many others. Now, only two years later, it seems like a shift. Is that exclusive to California? Is that across the country?

BENNETT: I think it's nationwide. And look; there's no question that Democrats are committed to police reform. We saw in the wake of the Floyd murder that that is desperately needed. But that does not mean the same thing as defunding the police or taking police out of communities that are most vulnerable to crime. And what we have found over and over is that the far left, which purports to speak for those communities, actually doesn't. Those communities vote quite differently than people like Boudin claim they're representative. And it turns out they're not.

FADEL: The other notable thing out of California was turnout. It's one of the bluest of blue states. And early indications are that turnout was pretty low. What does that tell you about the situation of the Democratic Party right now, just months before the election?

BENNETT: Well, it might be that enthusiasm is low. But it's hard to tell from these primaries that happen in weird times. I mean, we're in June. People are not, for the most part, thinking about politics. So it's hard to draw conclusions about what will be happening in November from these springtime primaries. But you always would prefer to see people turning out.

FADEL: The co-founder of the think tank the Third Way. Matt Bennett, thank you so much for being on the program.

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