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News Brief: Midterm Elections, Montana Rally, Afghan Election


Here are two basic realities about California. First, it's an overwhelmingly Democratic state which Hillary Clinton won with millions of votes to spare.


It is also home to a number of Republican members of Congress. They have represented the state's redder areas for many years now. And today, I am in one of several districts where Democrats are mounting challenges as they try to retake the House. Republican Dana Rohrabacher has served the 48th District for just about three decades now. Most recently, he made some news for his open embrace of Russia. The Democratic challenger here, Harley Rouda, has a real chance.

INSKEEP: And, David, I know you've been talking with voters who will be helping to make that decision here in a few weeks. What, if anything, has changed in that district?

GREENE: Well, I mean, this is a district - Orange County - that has always been pretty conservative, and it's still so in many ways. But, you know, it's been getting more moderates. And I've been speaking to people. There are wealthy people here who voted Republican in the past to try and keep their taxes low but now have turned against President Trump. There's a huge Vietnamese community here, Steve. And the younger generation in that community is, I think, more left-leaning than their parents.

But I want to introduce you to two voters in Surf City, USA - that's Huntington Beach. This is a conservative city in this district where a lot of residents want the police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That's very important to them. One of them is Donna Keller. She runs a ceramics business. She supports President Trump's immigration policies because she told me she worries about her safety.

DONNA KELLER: Well, I'm a woman, single - well, sort of single. So my first thing is safety. So illegal immigration is always on my mind. You don't know who's coming here. So you will never see me in LA or, you know, certain cities after dark because it's just - I don't feel safe.

INSKEEP: I guess we should underline, David, that conservative media and President Trump commonly highlight crimes linked to people who've come to the U.S. illegally, but statistically, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that people who come here illegally commit crimes at any higher rate than anybody else, right?

GREENE: Yeah. And I think it's really important to point that out. But, you know, she, regardless of that, is motivated by fear. And in a way, I think you could say the same thing about a Democrat named Shayna Lathus. She's a middle school teacher I met here. She fears for her students' well-being right now. Many of them, she said, wonder if and when their fathers might be deported. And because of that, these students are having trouble focusing in class.

SHAYNA LATHUS: I have several students who we've been trying to get their parents to come in for conferences or to discuss their child's individualized education plan that won't come because they're afraid of getting picked up. And the students have shared with me, my mom doesn't have papers, so we don't leave. They can't - they're afraid to come to school.

GREENE: And so, Steve, you know, these are the kinds of voices you hear in a competitive congressional district. And I was just taken by these two women. You know, we talk so much about division. They're going to vote for different candidates here. They're going to vote for different visions next month. But there is this shared emotion. It's fear. It's anxiety that's driving both of them. And those are emotions I think we see a lot in the country right now.

INSKEEP: Well, it's reminding me of the voters we spoke with one week ago in Kentucky in a different congressional district, David, because in those conversations, people had a lot to say. They were deeply upset, and at the same time, seemed really conscious that whatever they said was going to make one of their neighbors or many of their neighbors mad. Did you get that sense in California?

GREENE: A little bit, yeah. But, you know, I also got the sense - and you probably heard some of this as well - that there are a lot of voters who feel the country is so very divided right now. And they do feel this shared sense of unease. And they want, even if there are political divisions, to be able to talk to one another again. And we heard a lot of people who want to elect people to Congress who are also willing to talk to one another.

INSKEEP: OK, David. Thanks for the reporting. Really appreciate it.


INSKEEP: And we'll go on here.


INSKEEP: In the race for Congress, the decision belongs to millions of voters like some of the people that David was just speaking with. Hundreds of candidates are on the ballot, but much of the attention day-to-day goes to one single person.

GREENE: That's right. And that one person is President Trump, who held the latest of his campaign rallies last night. He was in Montana firing up the crowd with a joke about violence against a journalist.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But I had heard that he body slammed a reporter.

GREENE: The he there is the man Trump was stumping for Thursday night, GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte. Last year, he assaulted a reporter. He was a candidate at the time who went on to win a special election the following day.


TRUMP: And I said, oh, this is terrible. He's going to lose the election. Then I said, well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him - and it did.

GREENE: Gianforte, we should say, pleaded guilty and was convicted of misdemeanor assault.

INSKEEP: That is only one of the ways that journalists are in news stories this morning with the president of the United States, as we'll hear with NPR's Scott Horsley. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Any surprise at all that the president would take a verbal shot, so to speak, at the media?

HORSLEY: No. You know, attacking the news media has been a staple fixture of Trump rallies for a long time now. Reporters have been a convenient foil for this president, even though Donald Trump owes much of his success to the saturation news coverage he gets from the media. He acknowledged early on in the mystery over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi that he was a little bit out of character for him to be expressing concern about the fate of a journalist. But, you know, we've had violent attacks on journalists in this country, and that has not stopped the president from using tough language to describe the news media. And I don't guess this will, either.

INSKEEP: Well, Khashoggi, that would be another way that the president is in the news with a member of the news media because the president himself has drawn his administration ever closer to Saudi Arabia. And, of course, Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States and of any U.S. administration, really. But the president faces questions about the Saudi role in the disappearance and reported killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who had left Saudi Arabia, was in Turkey, went into a Saudi consulate, never is known to have come out. How has the president's response evolved, if at all, over the last several days?

HORSLEY: I think he is feeling some pressure to respond, if only as treating this as kind of a public relations problem. He told The New York Times yesterday, this one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately. He does seem to recognize that the allegations of this grisly murder at the hands of Saudi operatives has galvanized criticism of the Saudi Arabian government in a way that maybe earlier episodes - the war in Yemen or the mass execution of dissidents - has not. And the president has begun to acknowledge that he and his administration may have to respond to that however reluctantly.

We saw the first response yesterday with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announcing that he would pull out of a big investment conference, the so-called Davos in the Desert next week in Riyadh. He took that step sort of belatedly. A lot of business and journalistic leaders had already pulled out of that conference, and it was only announced with a tweet. There wasn't a lot of fanfare. At the same time, you had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just back from visiting Saudi Arabia and Turkey asking for patience and saying, you know, we ought to give the Saudis a few more days to complete their investigation.

INSKEEP: Scott, Saudi Arabia, as you know, is not terribly popular in the United States. And here's the president defending its leaders. Does this feel at all like a voting issue in this election season?

HORSLEY: It's not something he's been talking about at campaign rallies, and that's where the president is spending a lot of his time these days. He is feeling some pressure from fellow Republicans here in Washington. But this doesn't seem like something that's necessarily going to move the needle with the voting public.

INSKEEP: Scott Horsley, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: One more election now. Saturday was supposed to be Election Day in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. But now, those elections are postponed for a week.

GREENE: Yeah, this is after campaign-related violence that has left 10 candidates and many more supporters dead. In one case, a bomb was planted under a candidate's sofa. And then yesterday, Afghanistan's national police chief was assassinated. Taliban insurgents who want to disrupt the election have claimed responsibility, but rival politicians are also suspected to be behind some of this violence.

INSKEEP: Let's turn now to Pamela Constable, who has covered Afghanistan for years. And she's on the line. Welcome back.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Nice to be with you.

INSKEEP: I want to understand where these elections stand. Some of them have been postponed. Is that right?

CONSTABLE: Yes. At this point, they're still going to be held in most of the country, although because of insurgent threats, a number of polls were already going to be closed. So it's not a nationwide election already. But this, the closing or the delaying of the polling at all throughout the province of Kandahar, which is an enormous province, the delaying of those polls by one week adds greatly to the number of places that people will not be voting for now.

INSKEEP: What do parliamentary elections look like in 2018 in Afghanistan? Are people able to get out and campaign and hold rallies or is that not even safe?

CONSTABLE: It's a mixed picture. I mean, on the one hand, it's been very exciting because you've got this enormous, enormous field of candidates - you know, more than 2,500 candidates - of all kinds, descriptions, varieties, ways of dress, ages. You've got a mixture of, you know, turbaned elders. You've got young women in stylish clothing. You've got all sorts of, you know, young, educated people - men with, you know, very short or no beards, glasses, suits and ties.

And then you have this unusual phenomenon of the sons of former warlords who look nothing like their fathers, who look very modern and clean-cut but, in fact, have their big campaign posters shadowy photos of their less savory elders. We could put it that way. So it's been a very positive from that sense. The negative, of course, is that there has been, as you just described, a great deal of violence.

INSKEEP: Just in a few seconds, does it feel like, however these elections turn out, the will of the people might actually be expressed in some legitimate way?

CONSTABLE: I do think so. I do think so. There are allegations of fraud. There's been allegations of pre-election tampering with voter ID cards, last-minute efforts to fix that by introducing biometric technology. But it remains to be seen whether, in fact, this will be a reasonably successful and fair election.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll listen for the results whenever they get around to completing the elections amid threats of violence. Pamela Constable of The Washington Post. Thanks, as always, for your work.

CONSTABLE: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "REMINISCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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