STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep in San Francisco, Calif., one of eight states holding primaries today. We're at KQED. Voters in this state and others are choosing candidates for governor and for Congress. Choices made today could help determine who holds Congress after November's general election. Let's work through the map starting here in California, where Ben Adler is the Capitol bureau chief for Capital Public Radio. Hey there, Ben.
BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: And he's in Sacramento. We should mention California has been so consistently a Democratic state. So why would there be so much at stake - so much suspense in the congressional races this time around?
ADLER: Because of California - or rather, if Democrats are going to capture enough seats to take back the House of Representatives, it will very likely come through California. We expect there to be potentially seven or even more races that are up for grabs in November but only if Democrats can get candidates that they want - or in some cases, a candidate at all on the November general election ballot, which happens today.
INSKEEP: Oh, because the state as a whole is democratic, but you have these Republican-leaning districts. And you've got some vulnerable Republicans this time, which brings us to a voter in one of those districts that I want to play you some tape of. Chantelle Voss (ph) is her name. She's from Ladera Ranch, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. Her congressman is Darrell Issa, a Republican who is retiring. And she's been volunteering to go door to door to drive up the Democratic vote.
CHANTELLE VOSS: I'm concerned about a ton of issues. But my major concern is having a Democrat on the ballot because flipping this district is our pathway to regaining control of Congress. And if Democrats are in control of Congress, then Trump has a system that he's checked, right?
INSKEEP: So much to ask about there, Ben Adler - first, she says she's never been politically active before President Trump was elected. How much excitement or energy do Democrats have at this moment?
ADLER: Well, in California, of course, the capital of the resistance, as it's been called to President Trump, there is a lot of energy and excitement among grass-roots Democrats. The question is whether they're going to turn out and vote today because this is not the general election, where people will actually be chosen to go to Congress. This is not where, like in Alabama - you know, the Roy Moore race, and Doug Jones was actually elected. This is just a primary election. And those elections historically don't have great turnout in California. So there is great energy among grass-roots Democrats who are politically active. We'll see how many of them actually come out and cast votes.
INSKEEP: And there's a strange thing - or at least strange to people outside of California about the California primary system, which makes this a dangerous moment for Democrats, doesn't it?
ADLER: Because the - under California's top-two primary system, the top two finishers, regardless of political party, move onto the November general election. So there is a very real risk - particularly in three southern California congressional districts, including the one that you spoke with Chantelle about - that a Democrat could get shut out of the general election - that two Republicans could finish one two. Democrats are really pouring a lot of money, millions of dollars, into these districts trying to avoid that - picking a Democrat who might be a good fit, they think, or in some cases, hitting Republicans or trying to knock a Republican down so that another Republican gets a high enough share of the vote that a Democrat can squeeze atop the other Republican in the second place. It's really crazy.
INSKEEP: Because Democrats are dividing their vote between so many candidates because they're so excited so many people are running. We also want to play a tape of a Republican voter Alma Mathis (ph). She is in one of these districts, the 45th district represented right now by Mimi Walters, Republican. She's already voted. She's so into this. And immigration is one of the issues that made her support President Trump.
ALMA MATHIS: Probably immigration - I mean, my parents came here as immigrants from Mexico. But, you know, they did it the way you're supposed to because we have laws, just like every other country does. You know, they applied. They got a sponsor. They came here. They immediately got jobs and learned the language.
INSKEEP: Do you still find a lot of Trump support even in this blue state if you go to the right neighborhood - the right district?
ADLER: Oh, of course. I mean, just as there are blue states and red states, there are blue parts of California - very blue parts of California. And there are some extremely red conservative parts of California. And if you stop and think about it, you know, Donald Trump only got - what? - 31, 32 percent of the vote in California in 2016. But that was still 4 1/2 million votes in California.
INSKEEP: We're talking with Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio. And also on the line from Washington is NPR's Scott Detrow who's watching the other primaries. Hey, there Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: Where are a couple of places we should be paying attention today?
DETROW: Yeah, eight states voting today - it's as super as any Tuesday is going to get in 2018. Couple of key governor's races to keep an eye on. Iowa, there is a crowded Democratic field vying to take on Republican Kim Reynolds this fall. Democrats have really been wiped out in Iowa in recent years. So that's a race. It's a test of whether the party can become competitive again. Another interesting governor's race is in Alabama. Kay Ivey took over from Robert Bentley when he resigned. She's a Republican up for re-election now - facing a lot of Republican challengers in a race that has gotten very contentious and personal.
INSKEEP: You are reminding us, as you mention these governor's races, that Democrats have been devastated in governor's races the last few years, Scott.
DETROW: That's right - up and down the ballot in a lot of states. Democrats are trying to retake control of the House this year. But just as important for party leaders is winning back State House seats and winning back governorships.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the governor's race here in California. It is held by a Democrat - a very high-profile Democrat Jerry Brown who's retiring. Ben Adler, who wants his job?
ADLER: A lot of people - 27 are on the ballot in this top-two primary.
ADLER: But there will be two finalists who move onto the November general election. One will very likely be Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco. And then we're looking to see whether a Republican or a Democrat will occupy that second spot. It might be Republican John Cox, a San Diego businessman who has won the endorsement of President Trump - even though Cox didn't even vote for Trump in 2016. He voted Libertarian. The other possibility - leading possibility's former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But he's got to turn out a lot of voters who don't typically come out and vote in primary elections - Latinos, in particular.
INSKEEP: Scott Detrow, do the governor's races, in a way, affect the congressional races because they're at the top of the ticket when there's no presidential election?
DETROW: They do. And that's why the top-two system in California - really both sides are worried about because if Democrats get onto the ballot in these House races, but if there's no Republicans running for Senate or governor, why would a lot of Republicans bother showing up? They had that problem in 2016. Republicans want to have a candidate on the ballot for obvious reasons.
INSKEEP: Scott Detrow and Ben Adler, thanks to you both.
DETROW: Thank you.
ADLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.