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Democrats Hope To Secure House In Upcoming November Election


And now to the upcoming election in this country. House Democrats are preparing their closing argument for why voters should hand them control of the House of Representatives in November. They're hoping a wave of unhappiness with President Trump will help elect everyone from conservative Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania to Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. NPR's Kelsey Snell spoke with the trio of House Democrats in charge of making sure all those candidates have a shared message now so they can all come together after the election.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: House Democrats say they have a message for everyone. Their prospects for a victory in November are booming, and they credit it all to a group of candidates tailor-made to challenge Republicans.

CHERI BUSTOS: I think the common denominator that I see among these candidates who are running is they are smart, they are independent-minded, they have strong ideas, and they're coming from all different sorts of backgrounds.

SNELL: That's Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos. She is working with David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Hakeem Jeffries of New York on a message that can tie all of the wings of the party together for the campaign and set them up to govern if they win in November. But that means trying to find common ground for all of those independent minds. They want progressives to win in progressive districts and moderates to prevail when they're trying to defeat Republicans, all while still sharing a common bond with party leaders. And Jeffries says they're going to do that by talking about more than just resisting President Trump.

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: To the extent that the president has lost support, that just allows for room to have a dialogue, but that doesn't mean the dialogue should be anchored in bashing the president.

SNELL: But that's difficult. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's former chief of staff, Nadeam Elshami, says it will only get harder if Democrats win control of the House in November.

NADEAM ELSHAMI: In the majority, every member believes she or he has the ability to advance a priority. And while each priority is critical to that particular member or that particular district, it may not fit into the bigger picture.

SNELL: Democrats have faced this kind of thing before. They've weathered severe divisions over NAFTA, military intervention and familiar fights over single-payer health care. The trio says their plan this time around is to stick to pocketbook issues, like jobs, protecting the Affordable Care Act and investing in communities. Cicilline says they don't want to be like Republicans in 2010 who ran primarily on opposing President Obama at every turn. They want to focus on promising voters that they will aggressively fight for their values while somehow working with Trump to actually get bills passed.

DAVID CICILLINE: If we go into - go into the majority and behave the way that they have behaved, I think we'll be in the majority for two years. I mean, the American people are watching. They expect us to behave differently and work together to produce results that improve their lives.

SNELL: That might work for moderates trying to defeat Republicans in the suburbs of Philadelphia or Chicago, but it risks alienating passionate candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are running on Medicare for all and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Divisions like those already exist among Democrats in Congress, and they could be magnified by a wave of newcomers. For example, this year, 123 Democrats including Jeffries and Cicilline, signed onto a bill to create Medicare for all without the co-sponsorship of leaders. But Bustos says they'll figure that all out because the bigger mandate is to get bills passed.

BUSTOS: There are enough reasonable members of Congress who want to make that happen, but we've got to - we've got to lay that case out to the American public.

SNELL: And they have less than 100 days left to do that. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOY DIVISION SONG, "HEART AND SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.