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Mapping Out The End Days Of The Midterm Campaign


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. With the end of August comes the traditional beginning of the fall election season. Primaries across the country are wrapping up and while November may seem like a long way off, candidates and political parties are hard at work. So we begin this hour with a look at the election map.

BLOCK: Yesterday voters in Florida and Arizona picked their nominees for governor in two of the more closely watched elections in 2014. And the final batch of primaries will be September 9.

NPR Politics editor Charlie Mahtesian is here now to help us prepare for the coming months and talk about what to watch for in some of the nation's key races.

BLOCK: Hey, Charlie.


BLOCK: And the big question now seems to be how much ground Republicans might gain in the House and in the Senate. What does the Congressional landscape look like right now?

MAHTESIAN: Well, in a midterm election like this one, history suggests it's going to be a pretty rough year for the party that controls the White House. And certainly that's true in the House, where Democrats don't appear to have much of a shot at winning a majority and probably would be pretty happy just to limit the number of Republican gains.

So the real drama this year of course, is in the Senate, where Republicans need to pick up six seats to win control. Can they do that? They have a pretty good shot at it, since Democrats are forced to defend more seats this fall in total than Republicans do. And since polls also suggest that roughly a half dozen Democratic-held Senate seats are razor-close at this moment.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about some of the Senate races that you're watching especially closely.

MAHTESIAN: Well, certainly the Kentucky Senate race is one of the more electrifying contests this year, in large part because the most powerful Republican in the Senate, majority leader Mitch McConnell, is getting one of the toughest challenges of his career from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. And since you could argue that the road to a Senate majority runs through the South, I'm also keeping close tabs on the southern races this year - Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina. And the Arkansas Senate race in particular is really fascinating - there, you've got Senator Mark Pryor, who is himself the son of a former senator. And he's gone from having no Republican at all in his last election campaign to being in a barn burner of a race in a state where the president is deeply unpopular.

BLOCK: And Charlie, let's talk about the governor's race in Florida, in which we mentioned two familiar names on the Democratic and Republic side for Florida voters.

MAHTESIAN: Well, this is a great race and if I could only pick one race to follow this year, the Florida governor's race would definitely be it because it's nasty, it's big, it's expensive, the characters are fascinating. And it's all unfolding in one of the nation's largest and most diverse states. By picking Charlie Crist as their nominee, Democrats elected or nominated one of the most inscrutable politicians in the nation. He's gone from running as a pro-Ronald Reagan conservative politician to running now as someone who's almost a liberal Democrat. And he's also incredibly talented at the retail aspect of politics - he really connect with voters. And now he's going to be pitted against the incumbent, Republican Rick Scott, who stylistically is almost the opposite. Scott's problem is that he really struggles to connect with average voters. And so this is going to be one of the most interesting races to watch this year.

BLOCK: So Charlie, if you step back and try to say, here's what the election of 2014 is going to be about, here's the narrative - what do you come up with?

MAHTESIAN: Well, the odd thing is, you come up with almost nothing. It's an election about nothing. And this is a discussion we've had on the Washington desk and trying to wrap our arms around the idea of what is the primary overarching issue of this election? And that what we see is that the parties are really just beating each other up, trying to gin up energy in their bases to turn out in November. We've seen that the Affordable Care Act has lost some of its political saliency, jobs and economic issues matter a great deal at the polls, but certainly not at the high levels we saw a few years ago. And even immigration isn't moving voters in both parties to the same degree. And I think it's largely because we don't have the war in Iraq, as in 2006, or the passage of the Affordable Care Act, as in 2010, driving voters and generating interest among politicians.

BLOCK: That's NPR Politics editor Charlie Mahtesian.

Charlie, thanks.

MAHTESIAN: Thanks, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Charles Mahtesian is NPR's Politics Editor.