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What to expect during the last week of primaries


A little more than a week from the end of voting in midterm elections and Democrats are fighting an uphill battle to retain control of Congress. Republicans need a net pickup of just five seats to take back the House. The race for the Senate is closer. But Republicans are growing more hopeful there, as well. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here with us this morning. Domenico, historically, the president's party loses ground in that first midterm. Supreme Court's decision, though, this summer overturning Roe v. Wade seemed to swing things back toward Democrats. But how has that changed the past few weeks?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah. I mean, look; undoubtedly, Dobbs - the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe was a political earthquake in these elections that sent Democratic enthusiasm way up. But, you know, partially what we're seeing here is kind of part of the natural ebb and flow of an election cycle. You know, with about three weeks to go is when people start really paying attention. And the question, you know, is really going to be whether Democrats can keep that enthusiasm up to keep pace with Republicans. What we've seen in polling in many places is that it's not so much that Democrats are not gaining enthusiasm - they are as we get closer to crunch time - but that Republicans really are pulling further ahead with their levels of enthusiasm.

And a big thing, you know, helping Republicans with that is that we've seen over the last few weeks a truckload of money dumped in by Republican outside groups to boost Republican candidates on the airwaves in states that have key Senate races. You know, for example, a group tied to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, has dropped more than $50 million in just a couple of weeks and overall spent almost a quarter-billion dollars to boost some struggling Trump-backed Republican candidates in places like Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Right now, the Senate is a 50-50 split, which means if Republicans take just one seat, they take control. What are the key races to watch?

MONTANARO: Well, the two Democratic targets are Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans look to be in better shape in Wisconsin with Senator Ron Johnson, who's not very well-liked in the state. But he's running a pretty gritty campaign in what's a politically polarized state. So getting out your base is really important. Republicans are laser focused on Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. So we're talking about five races that really are what are expected to decide the Senate. And they're expected to be super close. Pennsylvania really is so important to Democrats' chances to holding the Senate because if the Democratic candidate there, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, is able to pull it out there against a celebrity TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, then even if Johnson holds on in Wisconsin, Republicans would have to win two of three of Georgia, Nevada and Arizona to take control.

Now, that's possible. But it's just a little bit harder if Pennsylvania is suddenly off the board. But no one I've talked to on either side is confident that they know what's going to happen here. And we really have to stress, you know, for our audience that it's very possible, if not likely, we won't know control of the Senate for days, if not weeks. I mean, not only are these elections expected to be close, but in Georgia, for example, it might not even be decided until December 6 because, you know, if no one gets above 50%, it will go to a runoff.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, different story in the House, though. Republicans need five seats to flip that. And it's widely expected to happen. But could we see another red wave like in 2010? That was President Obama's first midterm, when Republicans won 63 seats.

MONTANARO: Well, 63 seats is probably unlikely. First of all, after redistricting, the field is much narrower than it was then. Only about 60 seats are even in play now as compared to over a hundred back then. So what we're talking about here, possibly - the Cook Political Report, for example, does forecasting estimates of these races. And they're looking at about 12 to 25 seats for Republicans. And they've upped that projection in the past week or so. There are about seven races already where Republicans are already thought to be heavy favorites. So that would be enough to know on election night.

But we likely won't know the full height of any Republican wave if there is one for days or more because some of these races are expected to be super close across the country. You know, and in California, for example, on election night, likely very tight races. That'll mean we won't have exact numbers that day. And remember, certified results won't happen for weeks in many cases. That's exactly what's supposed to happen and happens in every election.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. We will check back with you. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks a lot.

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

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.