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Right Won Over Wrong In Alabama, Perez Says


Alabama's election result caught even the winner, Democrat Doug Jones, off guard.


DOUG JONES: I got to tell you...


JONES: I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don't know what the hell to say.


INSKEEP: Doug Jones won a Senate election in a deep-red state, defeating Republican Roy Moore, for whom allegations of past sexual misconduct and assault were just part of his baggage. We presume that our next guest is not at a loss for words. Tom Perez is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's in our studios here in Washington.

Good morning, Mr. Chairman.

TOM PEREZ: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What decided this?

PEREZ: You know, this was not about right versus left. This was about right versus wrong. Doug got out there, he talked about kitchen-table issues - #kitchentable - and he talked to voters all over the state. He had an every-county strategy, and he was organized. He was passionate. And he is - I've known him for 20 years. He is a - such a decent man. And this was a victory for decency in Alabama.

INSKEEP: Would he still have lost had Roy Moore not faced the allegations of numerous women of pursuing them as teenagers, and in some cases, assaulting them?

PEREZ: Well, I think Doug Jones is a perfect candidate for Alabama because he wants to fight for good jobs. He wants to fight for health care. He wants to fight for the things that people care about. He doesn't want to fight the culture wars, and Roy Moore wants to fight the culture wars. And this is a real - you look at what happened last night in Alabama. It's remarkable. He outperformed Barack Obama among African-Americans. He won women by 16 points.

This is a wake-up call for Republicans across the country, that when you continue to overreach, when you continue to pit one group against the other, it's going to have consequences. You look at Virginia. You look at New Jersey. You look now at Alabama. You look at a bunch of mayors' races across the country where Democrats have done well - state special elections in Washington state. There's a real trend here, and that is the trend of inclusion.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, you mention outperforming Barack Obama in the black vote. Exit polls, if I'm not mistaken, have shown the African-American vote with something like 30 percent of the total electorate.

PEREZ: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...Which is approximately what the percentage of the population is for African-Americans in Alabama. So rather than being less than the population - this is very common - they were right up there at proportion - big turnout. But at the same time, according to exit polls, Democrats did really, really poorly in the white vote - extremely poorly in the white vote - both college-educated and non-college-educated. Are there any lessons there for you?

PEREZ: Well, I think Doug Jones actually put together, I think, a very good coalition. I mean, he did, as I said, very, very well among African-American voters. 98 percent of African-American women supported Doug Jones. And actually, I - my understanding is that the African-American population's about 26 percent or so, so he overperformed.

INSKEEP: So maybe (unintelligible) that. OK.

PEREZ: And again, he - with women, he won by 16 points. With millennials - and we saw millennial engagement in Virginia that was off the charts. And so we have to keep working. And Doug's going to work for every Alabamian because he understands that they all want good jobs. They all want a brighter future for their kids, and that's what he's going to focus on.


INSKEEP: Rachel Martin is listening in Birmingham.

PEREZ: Yes, good morning.

MARTIN: Mr. Perez, I'm sorry to interrupt. I want to put a question to you. When I was out talking with a lot of African-American political activists who have been on the ground, knocking on doors, convincing people to support Doug Jones, these activists told me that this was not necessarily about Doug Jones, that they were not - they were intentionally not aligning themselves with the Democratic Party or Doug Jones as a candidate, that they were trying to transcend this particular election. How do you keep them if they aren't attached to you right now?

PEREZ: We have to stand up for the issues that both the African-American community - that every community cares about. We have to make sure we're there in every zip code fighting for good jobs, fighting for voting rights. I mean, voter suppression - you know, Alabama has historically been a ground zero. I saw that as a civil rights' lawyer practicing in Alabama. And so we've got to keep fighting for the issues that people care about, and we can't take anybody for granted. And the Democratic Party, at times, I think has taken too many voters for granted.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about 2018, Mr. Chairman, because you're one seat closer to controlling the Senate, of course, and you are hoping to have a chance to win the House in 2018. But you're going to have to compete in a lot of red states and in a lot of red districts. Do you see really much chance for Democrats to win red states when you're not running against the likes of Roy Moore?

PEREZ: Absolutely. You look at special elections that occurred earlier this year. In Oklahoma this past summer, there were special elections in three different state House districts - one Senate, two House districts, beet-red Trump territory - he won by over 20 points. We won all three of those. You look at Kansas last year. Donald Trump won Kansas by something like 14 points, and as you may know, Democrats picked up 14 seats in the state legislature. And the story earlier today outlined why because there's overreach. In Oklahoma, there's some kids who go to school four days a week because they've run out of money. We can win everywhere as long as we organize, organize early and make sure we put our message of inclusion and opportunity out there.

INSKEEP: Mr. Perez, thanks very much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Tom Perez is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.