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Presidential Contest Eclipses Congressional Races


The presidential contest overshadows constant maneuvering that could determine control of Congress this fall. Democrats hope to recapture the House. Republicans have been presumed to have an advantage in their efforts to take over the Senate. Both sides have been dealt some disappointments lately though.

Cokie Roberts has analysis as she does most Mondays. And this Monday morning, she's at our member station KERA in Dallas. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi. How are you, Steve?

INSKEEP: Doing fine, thanks. Glad you're with us once again. Let's start with the Senate here. The Democrats have 53 out of 100 seats. Republicans think they have a very good shot to get a majority. What are their odds?

ROBERTS: Not as good as they were last week before Olympia Snowe retired in Maine. But the math is working for the Republicans. Look, a third of the is Senate up each election. This year the Democrats are defending 22 seats, plus the seat that Joe Lieberman is now in, who caucuses with the Democrats. Lieberman's retiring along with six Democrats, and open seats are always better turnover targets than taking on an incumbent.

And the state of play at the moment underlines that. According to these non-partisan political analysis reports, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin are all toss-up elections right now, and so is Nebraska.

There's some thought that now that Bob Kerrey, the former governor and senator, is back into that race, that it's more hopeful for Democrats. I actually don't think that's true. I think Kerrey's been gone from Nebraska a long time. He's been in New York. He's not really in tune with that conservative state these days.

INSKEEP: Let me just figure out the math here. So Republicans have an advantage. They have a lot of seats that they can gain. They are expected to gain some. The question is whether Republicans will also lose a few of their own seats. Is it possible that they could lose? You mentioned Olympia Snowe retiring in May.

ROBERTS: Right, and of the three that are retiring, that's one of the seats in play. Arizona is also perhaps in play. And - but, you know, in Maine Republicans killed the Democrats in 2010, so don't count on a turnover there. Republicans are in tough races in Massachusetts and Nevada.

And here's where the presidential race comes(ph) into place, Steve. The Republican candidates have been so hostile in their immigration language that you could really lose – they could lose those seats because of the Hispanic vote, lose seats in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, maybe even Virginia - could all be decided by the Hispanic vote, and the Hispanic media is doing a huge get-out-to-vote drive. That's one of the many reasons this Republican Party wants this presidential contest to be over with.

INSKEEP: So that's the Senate. Now, on the House side, the Democrats needs 25 or 26 seats for a turnover, depending on what happens in an upcoming special election.

ROBERTS: Right, the election to replace Gabby Giffords. But you know, there again we've got a few dozen retirements, plus several incumbents who are forced to run against each other as a result of redistricting. The Democrats are at a big disadvantage in this decennial redistricting because they lost so majorly in the state legislatures in 2010, more in Republican hands than any time since 1928.

Democrats do expect to pick up some seats in California. But here in Texas, for instance, the map has been through the courts several times. It looks basically like a draw, but Democrats have been hoping to pick up seats because of that Hispanic population. Same in Florida, but that map is in the courts at the moment.

They really don't see a Democratic advantage here, 25 seats most likely to change hands essentially evenly split Democratic/Republican, so we could be looking at a down-to-the-wire election here at a time when that generic vote, Steve, is half and half, half the voters saying they want Democrats to control Congress, half saying Republicans.

INSKEEP: One more number, very briefly, Congress has, according to the real clear politics average of polls, an 11.3 percent approval rating. How does that affect things?


ROBERTS: Well, the Democrats in the Senate are not really concerned about that. What they want to do is run against the do-nothing Congress. Republicans in the House would like to do something about that because they think that it doesn't work for them. And in fact it works against all incumbents. More than half of the voters say they should have somebody new.


ROBERTS: But the main thing it does is drive out good people, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. Commentary this morning from Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Cokie Roberts died September 17, 2019, at age 75.