U.K. Prime Minister Calls For Early Election, U.S. Special Election In Georgia

Apr 18, 2017
Originally published on April 18, 2017 7:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As if this year's elections in France and Germany were not enough, Britain is voting, too. Prime Minister Theresa May has the power to call a snap election. And today she did.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I have just chaired a meeting of the cabinet where we agreed that the government should call a general election to be held on the 8 of June.

INSKEEP: This dramatic vote will come as Britain begins to negotiate its departure from the European Union after the Brexit vote of last year. The BBC's Jonny Dymond is covering this story in London. Welcome back to the program.

JONNY DYMOND: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why do this?

DYMOND: Well, there's an official version and there's an unofficial version. The official version is, as far as Theresa May sees it, the British prime minister sees it, she faces problems from opposition parties in Parliament when it comes to negotiating the Brexit deal, the deal for Britain to leave the European Union. She says the opposition parties are holding up the will of the people, as expressed in that referendum that we had last year.

And so she wants to hold an election so she can get a full-throated mandate from the British people to push ahead with the negotiations that are going to last around two years starting from, well, in a couple of months' time.

INSKEEP: OK, so that's the official version. What's the unofficial version?

DYMOND: The unofficial version is that Theresa May is in a very, very strong position in the opinion polls. She leads the opposition Labour Party by about 20 points. It is led by a deeply uncharismatic figure who doesn't click with very many people in the British population. She has no mandate herself. She has not faced the electorate. She came to power without a general election, without even a full vote of her own party. So it's her chance to stamp her personal authority on the party and on the parliament.

And also there is this gap at the moment. Whilst the European Union readies itself and prepares its own negotiating position to face the Brexit negotiations, there is a gap into which this election can fall. So the timing works for Theresa May.

INSKEEP: You said seemingly unassailable but we've seen all the elections in the past year or two. Do you really want a political leader to go into a vote like this saying what could possibly go wrong?

DYMOND: No, you don't (laughter). And as someone who's spent a lot of time talking about the British referendum, which went different directions, the opinion polls indicating it, I'm sure everyone who looks at the opinion polls is putting in that righter. But when you're talking about a 20-point lead, it's different from a 5 percentage-point lead.

INSKEEP: Are there any of the major parties, the Labour Party you mentioned, led by Jeremy Corbyn, is any party going to campaign against Brexit saying vote for me and we'll get out of this?

DYMOND: Yes, the third party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats, will campaign full-throatedly against Brexit and may well pick up some seats off the back of that.

INSKEEP: OK, that's the BBC's Jonny Dymond in London. And our political editor Domenico Montanaro is here in our studios. And, Domenico, what do you think of what you just heard?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, I mean, can you imagine if our president had the power to call for an election every time the opposition was upset? We'd have elections all the time.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: I'll tell you this, I like the idea of a six-week election. How do we get that?

INSKEEP: Well, we can work on that. But, you know, this is the world's greatest democracy, we've got to spread it out. We've got to do big things. And by the way, there is an election here in the United States...

MONTANARO: There is?

INSKEEP: ...Today - a special election in the state of Georgia in one congressional district. It is to replace former Congressman Tom Price, Republican who's now in the Trump administration. Heavy Republican district but pretty competitive this year, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, this is a district that Price won with more than 60 percent of the vote. But Donald Trump, during the 2016 election, won by less than 2 percentage points. It's really indicative of a lot of these right-leaning districts with a lot of suburban Republicans, well-educated, who really had some misgivings about Donald Trump and still continue to. Democrats felt like they saw an opening here. This was the first chance for them to really express their frustration with Donald Trump.

And on the heels of that Kansas special election last week where Democrats did better than expected, this money has poured into this race. And they're hoping that Ossoff, Jon Ossoff, who's the Democrat in this race, 30-year-old former documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide, can get over 50 percent. Because Republicans have now caught on. And if he doesn't get above 50 percent, there will be a runoff in two months, and he would be absolutely hammered by negative attack ads from now until then.

INSKEEP: I guess we should explain what's happening today. Some people call this a jungle primary...

MONTANARO: Yeah (laughter).

INSKEEP: ...Which means everybody running against everybody, right?

MONTANARO: Right, everybody running against everyone. It doesn't matter. You don't run in a Republican or Democratic primary. Everybody runs together and the top two finishers then face off against each other. But if somebody gets 50 percent...

INSKEEP: It's over.

MONTANARO: ...It's over.

INSKEEP: Does that mean this is a very unpredictable day?

MONTANARO: It's absolutely unpredictable. It was unthinkable two, three months ago that Ossoff could possibly get over 50 percent. Now with the amount of money and celebrity backing that he's gotten, he could possibly get there. But it looks like the most likely outcome is a runoff to June 20.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.