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Georgia Democrat Bee Nguyen finds party optimism in voters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All this weekend, as we have been following the results of the midterm elections, we've been getting different perspectives on what those results mean for the country's two major political parties going forward. Yesterday, we heard from former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez about the way forward for Republicans. Now we're going to hear from Georgia Representative Bee Nguyen. She made history as the first Asian American Democratic woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly, where she represented District 89. That's a seat which was formerly held by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and the voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

This year, Representative Nguyen made a bid to become Georgia's next secretary of state, a once low-profile role that has become much more visible in the wake of efforts by former President Trump and other Republicans to pressure election officials to overturn unfavorable election results. That's an effort which was probably most visibly directed at Nguyen's opponent, the incumbent, Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger prevailed, but we wanted to get Representative Nguyen's take on the way forward for Democrats in her state and elsewhere. Representative Bee Nguyen, thanks so much for sharing some of your insights with us.

BEE NGUYEN: Thank you so much for having me on.

MARTIN: As I think most people know by now, Democrats were able to prevent the so-called red wave that both history and analysts, you know, might have predicted, given just, you know, those are the historical patterns - that the party that holds the White House generally suffers losses in the midterms. That didn't happen to the extreme level that it could have. I mean, but the other hand, Democrats didn't win decisive victories either. So in your opinion, what do you think the Democrats did well, and what do you think they should have done better?

NGUYEN: Yeah. So specifically in the state of Georgia, something that I would like to see is us continue to focus on the field mobilization and continue turning out our base voters and nontraditional voters. We saw in the state of Georgia that we had high numbers for our early voting, but those numbers tapered down on Election Day. What we also saw in Georgia is our field apparatus was not to the level it was in the years of 2020 and 2021. And we still have to remember that in a battleground state like Georgia, the mechanism by which we used to win was really tapping into these voters who traditionally don't turn out for elections and having those face-to-face conversations with them.

We also had a larger challenge in Georgia, running against incumbents who were not seen as extremists to Georgia voters. And so going up against that is obviously an uphill battle. But I think the lessons learned here in Georgia are we have to continue to focus on our ground game, and we have to also adequately fund some of these down-ballot races that are important to the state of Georgia as well. We often see the money ends up staying at the top of the ticket, and it doesn't really trickle down to the bottom of the ticket.

MARTIN: Is this a matter of Democrats not feeling that they have adequate resources, or is there something deeper at work here? And this is one of those things that's kind of hard to talk about, but you cannot help but notice that the national leadership of the Democratic Party skews older. I mean, President Biden is going to be 80 soon. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house - the current speaker of the house - is 82. The current Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is 71. Is there any part of you that is concerned that the Democratic leadership isn't doing enough to support and develop and recruit future leaders like yourself?

NGUYEN: So I actually think that Georgia, we had a really, really strong statewide down-ballot ticket. If you look at the way in which money is spent, though, most of the times, when we are looking at key races across the country and in the state of Georgia, it is very difficult for down-ballot candidates to fundraise. For example, if you're looking at a - you know, a seat like lieutenant governor, the candidate on the Democratic side was running against a fake elector, but the money wasn't there to amplify the messaging that the lieutenant governor nominee on the Republican side was a fake elector.

If enough Georgians had known about it, I do believe they would have rejected that type of extremism. But I do think that, you know, there are some things that were out of control for our down-ballot statewide candidates. One thing that we could have done better was make sure that some of the statewide down-ballot candidates were better funded but also making sure that we had a massive turnout game because that would have helped the ticket overall.

MARTIN: I mean, look, obviously, this - just the last couple of days - and it's been just such an incredible year for you and for others in Georgia. I mean, I think many people might forget that - well, let me put it this way. I don't know that you could have forgotten, but - these deadly attacks on Asian women. We saw a wave of attacks on people of Asian descent around, you know, the country for factors which I think many people will remember. It's just been a very, you know, challenging year to be a public figure like yourself. When you look back on it, are you glad that you ran? And what's next for you?

NGUYEN: I am glad that I ran. You know, when I was giving my remarks to my supporters on Tuesday night, I started to recall what the last five years looked like as a state representative in Georgia. And I served during a time in which we passed a six-week abortion ban in the state of Georgia, which was traumatizing as a lawmaker and as a woman. I served during a time in which there was a deadly attack that left six Asian women dead in a brutal and violent shooting. I served during a time in which they sent Rudy Giuliani into my legislative committee, in which I faced death threats as well. And I served during a time in which we passed one of the most restrictive voting laws across the country.

And when I reflect on, you know, the last five years, I felt it was important to have a voice at the table in the state of Georgia, which is a battleground state. We are changing, and change takes time. I have learned a lot over the last 18 months traveling as a statewide candidate in Georgia. And I can say, at least this point in time, that an Asian woman can win a Democratic primary, which, up into this year, that was not true. And the voters in Georgia leave me feeling very optimistic. I got to travel all over the state of Georgia. I met people who felt unseen and unheard, people who really needed us to show up for this election and beyond. And as somebody who started my career in organizing and advocacy, I understand that the work does not end or begin with an election.

So I feel optimistic about the direction that our country is taking. I feel optimistic about the voters in Georgia. I know there is a lot of work left to be done. I'm disappointed about the results in Georgia, but I do feel that we are going to continue to be in an important state and that we have another three weeks to do the work of sending Reverend Warnock back to the Senate.

MARTIN: That was Bee Nguyen. She recently ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in Georgia. Previously, she was a member of the Georgia General Assembly representing District 89. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.