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Races To Watch In The Midterm Elections


And joining us to talk about what she'll be watching tonight is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey there, Mara.


CORNISH: So, looking at these competitive states, I'm sure people are thinking about the Senate and who's going to control it. So, what are you going to be looking for specifically that'll help us understand which way things could go?

LIASSON: Republicans only need a net six-seat pickup to take control of the Senate, and they're very well-positioned to do that. They're already ahead in a bunch of red states - Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana. That's five right there. Then I'll be looking at where they might get their sixth and then possibly seventh, eighth, et. cetera, pick up.

And then there's a bunch of states where Barack Obama won - Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire. And those are states the Democrats had hoped to be their firewall this year. So I'm going to be watching those four states very closely. If they start dropping, going to the Republicans, then Democrats are in for a bad night.

CORNISH: And with all the focus on the Senate, people haven't been talking very much about the House. But what might happen there, and frankly, what difference does it make?

LIASSON: Well, Republicans will hang onto their majority. They will pick up seats. The question is will they get more than 12? If they get 13 pickups, then they will have the biggest House Republican majority since the 1930s. What does that mean? John Boehner might have an easier time passing bills, although he's passed quite a bit of them so far. But he will also have a bigger conservative group of Tea Party representatives. And in the past, they've given him a lot of headaches. And he might have a bigger, more unruly group to deal with.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, some of the more colorful campaigns this cycle have been in governor's races. Talk about which ones that you're watching tonight.

LIASSON: Well, there are 10 incumbent governors who are in toss-up races, and a couple that I'm looking at are Florida where former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, is trying to unseat the current Republican Governor Rick Scott. Florida is a very important state in presidential elections, so I'm watching that. And that race is completely dead even.

The other race that's interesting is in Wisconsin where Scott Walker is trying to hang onto his job. If he does, he will run for president in 2016. If the Democrats can defeat him tonight that means that there will be one less Republican-hopeful for the 2016 nomination for president.

CORNISH: Historians often look back at midterm elections for kind of lessons here and there politically. But have there been any surprises this cycle?

LIASSON: Well, the biggest surprise was Kansas, an extremely red state where the Republican incumbent Governor Pat Roberts has really been on the ropes. He's been given a very spirited challenge by an Independent Greg Orman who still hasn't said who he would caucus with - which party he would caucus with - if he's elected. That was a big surprise. And I think the background, or the backdrop, for that was that there's been an intramural battle inside the Republican Party in Kansas between the Tea Party wing and the more moderate establishment Republicans. And Pat Roberts has been caught in the middle of that.

I also think it's been interesting election because there really hasn't been two competing agendas. There hasn't been a clash of visions. Mostly the Republicans have run on a message of Obama, bad. And Democrats have been trying to localize these races.

One of the most interesting polling results that I saw the entire cycle was that voters, now by 50 percent, say they would rather have a candidate who will compromise. In 2010, the answer to that question was completely the opposite. Fifty-seven percent of voters said they'd rather have a candidate who stuck to their positions at the expense of passing legislation. So, it sounds like as disgusted as voters are, they want the two parties to work together. And we'll see if that actually happens after January.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.