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Rep. Elissa Slotkin On Michigan Vote

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In election counting centers across Michigan today, workers steadily turned giant piles of absentee ballots into counted votes. And now we know Michiganders have selected Joe Biden to be the next president. We also have some other election results from the state, like the race for the 8th Congressional District, which covers part of Lansing, metro Detroit and the rural stretch in between. Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin held onto her seat in this swing district. And when we spoke earlier today, I started by asking her why the presidential race is so close, despite Democrats having four years to work on their message.

ELISSA SLOTKIN: Well, listen. I think we saw incredible turnout, which is a positive thing - people voting and voting in different ways. Obviously, historic absentee voting here in Michigan and - which is why we're still counting votes and following up and seeing who won. You know, I think there's going to be plenty of time for Monday morning quarterback. I think that, you know, we just have arrived at a moment in our politics that are very polarized, and people feel very passionate. They feel sort of moved one way or another. And it's just...

CORNISH: Let me jump in here, then...

SLOTKIN: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Because you're right. We can move to Congress, where we do have much more information - I mean, House Democrats not ousting any GOP incumbents, not winning any open seats - in fact, losing six incumbents. This doesn't exactly show a mandate from voters.

SLOTKIN: Well, I - listen. We still have the majority in the House, and I think that that's important. But listen. There's no doubt that we saw a real surge in Trump voters. And a lot of the polls that a lot of people were reading were just way overstated and just fundamentally undercounting those Trump voters. So I think we're going to have to...

CORNISH: Did you do something differently? - 'cause as we mentioned, your district has rural and urban sections. And it's really in the rural areas in particular you see people kind of missing the mark on the Democratic side.

SLOTKIN: Well, listen. We did do better in 2020 than we did in 2018, which I'm proud of. And we just tried to make our case directly to people. We focused on local issues. We tried not to nationalize every single thing, and then we talked about working across the aisle. I think people are so desperate to hear that it's possible to work across the aisle, even when you don't agree on really, really big things. And so we made that clear to people that we believed in that and we were going to live that. And I think it paid off.

CORNISH: But so many centrist Democratic members lost their races - right? - in Florida, in Iowa. I mean, does that send a message? I mean, are you actually the anomaly here?

SLOTKIN: I don't think so. There's plenty of people like me who won in 2018 who still kept their seats and who have a mandate from voters a second time. I think, you know, where we saw people lose their seats is, you know, places like Oklahoma and South Carolina, where my peers, you know, did this amazing thing in 2018 and won in districts no one ever thought they could win in. And then they just couldn't...

CORNISH: But Donna Shalala's in Southern Florida. I mean, this isn't...

SLOTKIN: Well, Florida...

CORNISH: ...Unusual territory.

SLOTKIN: Yeah. Miami in particular - there was just a surge there. And I don't think anyone saw that coming in that same way. But places - other places around the country where people lost, it was because the Trump voters came out in such huge numbers that it just couldn't - it couldn't be pushed back by those really wonderful candidates.

CORNISH: As we look at these divisions that seem to have deepened during the campaign season in places like Michigan, what do you do to move forward? I mean, how do you represent a constituency when, as you said, you can't really talk about anything without it being nationalized - right? - and therefore politicized and divisive?

SLOTKIN: So this is a very important point - right? - is that everyone right now is focusing on who won the election, which is the right thing. And then we're going to talk about a peaceful transition of power and how we do that in line with our democracy. But that third step that we cannot forget is we got to figure out a way to heal. I mean, we just cannot go on with this being our politics. I refuse to believe that we have to have this zero-sum approach to politics. And that's going to take work, especially for people like me in our district here where our neighbors have different political views. My in-laws have different political views than I do. And if we forget that step and we just sort of respond in kind, our kids are going to think that this is normal. And I refuse to believe that. And Michiganders cannot stand that - cannot.

CORNISH: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin has just been reelected to her second term representing the 8th District of Michigan.

Thank you for your time.

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


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