Candidates Make Final Arguments In Battle For Control Of Senate
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're also tracking this fall's election. We're beginning the final week - the final full week - of campaigning with dozens of governors' chairs up for grabs, also the U.S. Senate - control of it - which is what we're going to talk about next. NPR politics editor Charlie Mahtesian is in our studios. Good morning.
CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: And so is our congressional reporter Juana Summers. Good morning to you.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Charlie, let's start with you. Of course, we think of the map of the United States, people talk about turning states blue or red, Democratic or Republican, potentially an awful lot of red here.
MAHTESIAN: Right. Well, judging from the most recent round of polling, Republicans appear to have a slight advantage. But it's close, and it's certainly coming down to the wire. At the moment, it looks like Republicans are well-positioned to win 3 of the 6 seats that they're going to need to win control. But after that, it gets a little bit dicier.
Republicans are facing some Democratic incumbents who are hanging tough against some bad odds and also because Republicans have a few of their own seats that look to be in danger. So I think the bottom line is that, with just over a week to go until Election Day, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty - nearly a half dozen Senate seats look to be so close that they're within the margin of error in polls.
INSKEEP: Now, when you said they need six seats, just the basic math - 55 seats to the Democrats right now. So if Democrats lose six, they are in the minority, Republicans are in the majority. You mentioned that Democrats are hoping to pick up a seat or two or at least pick off a Republican or two. And, Juana, I believe you're going to be in a state where that is considered at least possible right now.
SUMMERS: That's right. I will be in Kansas on election night. And if had you told me a year ago that a Republican governor and Republican senator would be struggling to get reelected in a deeply red state like this one, I would've told you you're absolutely crazy. But that's exactly what we're seeing in Kansas. Pat Roberts is the sitting senator there, and he survived a closer-than-expected primary fight against radiologist Milton Wolf. And I think at that point, it's fair to say that he and his team assume, you know, this is a done deal, skate to victory but that is not happening. The Democratic challenger Chad Taylor dropped out of the race abruptly and that has created an opening for Greg Orman - the Independent, the businessman - running in that race. He's put in more than a million dollars of his own money into this race.
It's been very close, and this is one race that's definitely being hit by conditions on the ground. The state's conservative governor, Sam Brownback - also in the top three for Kansas against Democrat Paul Davis - he's been largely fighting a backlash from moderate Republicans. So I think national Republicans are certainly watching that one and hoping to make sure they can hang on there as it complicates their path to the majority.
INSKEEP: So when you look at the Senate here, you have Democrats at a disadvantage, but hoping to pick off a seat here and there. At the same time, though, Charlie, they're defending seats that looked like they might be, if not totally safe, OK for Democrats. I'm thinking of Colorado where Mark Udall was considered a strong presence. He's a big name. He's a veteran politician. That state has been trending a little more Democratic in recent years, but there he is in serious trouble.
MAHTESIAN: Exactly. That's a contest that's as close as any on the Senate map this year. Republican Congressman Cory Gardner has led Senator Mark Udall in most polls over the past month or so but it is razor close. Senator Udall has relied on an emphasis on abortion rights and birth control in an attempt to paint Congressman Gardner as an extremist. But there are starting to see - we're starting to see signs that that approach isn't working as well as expected. Senator Udall has a big lead among women, but the trouble is he's facing an even wider deficit among men as a result. But working on Senator Udall's behalf is this highly sophisticated Democratic ground game in Colorado. Democrats' ability to turn out voters in Colorado has been underestimated in recent, past elections. And this could be an example where they might be able to pull it out again for Udall this time around.
INSKEEP: You know, I was talking to a Republican official over the weekend who was saying that the Republican Cory Gardner has been a model for them in getting out of these attacks on being - these accusations that they're warring against women, that he's backed off of a personhood amendment, that he's done other things to just try to keep things low-key, make sure that that's not the focus so far as he's concerned.
MAHTESIAN: Right. Gardner is a candidate that Republican officials always point to for being gaff-free - for doing an excellent job of retail politics and also handling the politics of the so-called war on women pretty well, including talking about over-the-counter birth control.
INSKEEP: Juana Summers, I'm going to give you the last word. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky has a chance to be Senate majority leader if he can keep his job. Will he?
SUMMERS: That's really uncertain, obviously. He's been representing Kentucky as long as Alison Lundergan Grimes, his Democratic challenger, has been alive, and it remains a really close race. Here's one indication of just how close it is - Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee back up on the air in Kentucky with more ads backing Grimes. McConnell loaned himself $1.8 million as well.
INSKEEP: Wow. Juana, thanks very much.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juana Summers and Charlie Mahtesian on this Monday morning.