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The Battle For Congress: State Of The House Vs. Senate


We're going to talk more now about the battle for control of Congress. There's a good chance that the House and Senate could end up moving in divergent directions with Democrats picking up seats in the house but Republicans likely adding to their slim majority in the Senate. NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor is here to tell us what to look for election night for clues about which way things are going.

Jessica, welcome back.


MARTIN: So, first of all, why could we have very different results in the House and the Senate?

TAYLOR: Well, it's really two very different playing fields we're looking at. And the House is far more Democratic-friendly territory where these battles are playing out - in the suburbs - while the Senate - it's happening in really, really red states, which is why President Trump campaigning there could actually help. And this is a disconnect we haven't seen since 1982 in Ronald Reagan's first midterm with one party gaining seats in the Senate but losing seats in the House.

Now, in the Senate, Democrats are defending 10 incumbents in states that President Trump won while Republicans have only one in a state that Hillary Clinton won. It's the worst map for them in a century. But only about half of those states that Trump won ended up being competitive, so this could have been a lot worse for Democrats. And, earlier on, it looked like Democrats could have a path, against all odds, to get the two seats that they need. But now it looks like they'll probably lose a seat in North Dakota where Heidi Heitkamp is the most endangered incumbent. And there's a tossup in Missouri with Senator Claire McCaskill, and that's probably moving against Democrats, too.

MARTIN: And then what about in the House?

TAYLOR: Democrats are favored there. The House is really more representative of the country as a whole. And Republicans are most vulnerable in these suburban seats where independents and women really want to send a message of dissatisfaction and disgust with President Trump. And, I mean, these were seats that were originally drawn to favor Republicans, and now these are really the bulk of competitive races, which shows you how far it has moved away from Republicans. On top of that, there have been a record number of 41 Republican retirements, so there are plenty of opportunities for Democrats to get the 23 seats they need.

MARTIN: And how realistic is it that they will get those 23 seats? And I apologize - I am asking you to predict. But how realistic is that?

TAYLOR: Well, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert - she said they will win. Democratic strategists I've talked to this week are a little more cautiously optimistic. And I think that's because a lot of them remember what happened in 2016 when they thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. But Republicans I've talked to - they privately say they're probably going to lose the House. And President Trump on Friday even sort of seemed to concede that that was a possibility.

MARTIN: Now, recognizing that we may not know on Tuesday just because so many places - you know, states vote early, a lot of people vote by mail - what states could tell us whether Democrats are having a good night in the House?

TAYLOR: So one of the earliest states to close is Virginia. And Democrats are expected to pick up at least a seat here in the D.C. suburbs that went for Hillary Clinton really big. But there are two other big, competitive tossup seats, and if those go their way, it's not a good omen for Republicans. The same in Georgia - there's two seats in the Atlanta suburbs. If they lose those, again, not sort of a good indicator. One of the biggest hints, I think, come in New Jersey. The polls close there at 8 p.m., and Democrats are favored to pick up two open seats. But if Republicans lose two toss-up seats, that could indicate they're on the way to big gains.

MARTIN: Now, earlier you talked about the expectation for Republicans in the Senate. You said a couple of seats that they are likely to flip - you told us that just a minute ago. But what's decisive for the Senate?

TAYLOR: If Republicans can hold Arizona and Nevada, they'll shore up a majority, I think. But those are two tough states right now for the GOP - and places where, when President Trump's closing message is on immigration, it's not exactly helpful for them. You know, and even if Democrats can flip those two seats, it's still an uphill battle. There's still tossup races in Indiana and Florida, and two places where they had hoped to be on offense - in Tennessee and Texas - seem to be tilting more toward Republicans in the closing days. But if polls close there and they're close, and there's a doubt of which way the races are going, it could be a long night for Republicans and a really good sign for Democrats.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jessica Taylor.

Jessica, thank you.

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

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.