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A Look At The Congressional Seats In Play In November


Election Day's getting closer, and most of the focus has been on the drama in the presidential race. But all of those headlines are causing anxiety for some candidates further down the ballot. We wanted to take a look at how that battle for control of the Senate and the House of Representatives is shaping up, so we're joined now by NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks for joining us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Lakshmi.

SINGH: So let's begin with the broad picture of the congressional races in play this election year.

DAVIS: This entire year, Democrats have been favored to make gains in both the House and the Senate, so the question is just how many. Let's start with the Senate, where Democrats face better odds. They're already favored to pick up two seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, and there's about another six competitive seats on the table in the home stretch. Democrats are feeling particularly strong in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire right now because Hillary Clinton has sizable leads in both states at the moment.

And in the House it's a much higher hurdle. Republicans are in a good position to maintain control of the chamber. But right now, Democrats are forecasted to pick up somewhere between seven and 15 seats.

SINGH: Overall, where are the closest races that we should be watching in general?

DAVIS: Let me give you two bellwethers in the Senate. Let's look at Missouri. This is a late-popping race, and the incumbent there is Republican Senator Roy Blunt. And his Democratic opponent is secretary of state Jason Kander. Blunt is an establishment Republican in a year when Republican voters are looking for outsiders. Kander is younger, he doesn't have a voting record. And if he wins there, it probably means Democrats are having a very good night and winning the Senate.

In the House, California Republican Darrell Issa, a familiar incumbent that I don't think a lot of people were thinking about having a competitive race. Recent polls have shown that race tightening. You know, of course, he's very well-funded and he's an established incumbent, two things that normally make a candidate very hard to beat. But his Democratic opponent is a retired Marine. He's a political newcomer. If Republicans lose that seat, it is likely Democrats are having a very good night.

SINGH: So a week ago, The Washington Post released the now infamous 2005 video where Donald Trump is heard bragging about a whole bunch of things, but basically his conquest of women. We'll put it that way. In response, Speaker Paul Ryan told House Republicans, do whatever you need to do to protect your campaigns. So what are Republican candidates doing?

DAVIS: Well, the speaker also said he would no longer defend or campaign on behalf of Donald Trump. The speaker is instead - he's going to spend the next month on behalf of House Republicans. He says he's going to do everything to protect that majority. He has a travel schedule that's going to take him to 17 states between now and Election Day.

But, yes, we have seen several dozen Republicans come out and either denounce Donald Trump or say they won't vote for him. But the majority of Republicans in Congress have either stayed quiet or have made clear that they continue to stand by and actively support the nominee.

SINGH: Some Republicans who had turned on Donald Trump have flipped again and now say that they will support him. This is an important point. Everybody has been looking at them and seeing if they could actually survive their campaigns after going back and forth. What is your take on the challenge they face?

DAVIS: Well, it did show that some of these Republicans got out a little far ahead of their voters, and they snapped back when they realized that a lot of Republican voters are still standing with the nominee. And they want Republicans down the ballot to do the exact same thing. At least four members of Congress have recanted their initial call for Donald Trump to come out. They said, oh, never mind. We're actually - we'll stand by him and vote for him this November. But we now have enough Republicans running with Donald Trump and another group of Republicans running away from Donald Trump. And on Election Day, we're going to see which way was the smarter way to run. And the answer to that question is going to be a sign of probably which way the Republican Party is moving going forward.

SINGH: OK. That's Susan Davis. She covers Congress for NPR. Sue, many thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.