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Politics In The News: Previewing Midterm Elections


At stake in tomorrow's election is nothing less than control of the U.S. Senate. This morning, we've been looking at what's happening in some key Senate battles around the country. And here to give us a broader overview is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: All of the talk, Cokie, seems to be how Republicans are headed to take the Senate. But in the last two elections, Republicans looked like they had a really good shot and they failed. So is this really their year?

ROBERTS: Probably. They're looking good in a whole lot of places. And of course, you know, the president's approval rating is low, and historically at this point in a president's second term, he loses a good number of seats in the Congress. But even so - and even given the fact that many Democrats are defending seats in states that voted for Mitt Romney - these races are still close. The fact that we're even looking at races in Georgia, where there's an open seat, and Kansas, which hasn't voted Democratic in decades, tells you this is not an absolutely done deal.

North Carolina was expected to be an easy win for Republicans, picking off first-term incumbent Kay Hagan. But she's currently running ahead, so it could be a long night and a night that's not over until January 6, when Georgia has a runoff if no one gets more than 50 percent tomorrow. But I suspect not, Renee. The Cook Political Report has done an analysis of past elections, and they've seen that tossups don't break 50-50, that 80 percent go one way, and this year that way is very likely to be Republican.

MONTAGNE: Still, though, is there any major factor or issue that could stand up in the way of Republicans doing really well this year?

ROBERTS: Yes, it's what the politicians call the Republican brand. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said recently that the brand stinks. That's not the word he used, but it's more polite than the one he did. Only 25 percent in a recent Washington Post ABC poll approved of the job Republicans in Congress are doing. Now, look, Democrats are not doing much better - only 30 percent approved for them - but it's still better. And it's that dislike of the Republican Party that's keeping these races close right up until the end. Even so, though, more likely voters are saying they favor a Republican Congress over a Democratic one.

MONTAGNE: Well, talking about likely voters, we've heard a lot about this year how key Democratic votes or voters rather don't show up at the polls in midterm elections. Is that why the Democratic candidates are having such a tough time?

ROBERTS: Yes, but it's also true that the groups the Democrats count on - young people, women, minorities - are not that keen on the president right now. His standing has fallen off among each of those groups, and the voters he's had the most stark drop off with, Renee, are Hispanics. He's dropped close to 20 points in the course of this year among Hispanics. And just yesterday, again, he had hecklers at a campaign event challenging him on his failure to act on immigration.

Now, that could be a big problem for Democrats in 2016 if they can't turn that discontent around. But it could be a problem tomorrow for Colorado Senator Mark Udall, who's in a very tough race. He needs those Hispanics to win, and it's looking like it's going to be very difficult for him to get it. Now, other Democrats who were up didn't want the president to act before the election because it's going to be tough for them in their states to have immigration reform - tough for Mark Udall not to have it.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.

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