Election Preview: Security Issues, Independents

Steve Inskeep talks with NPR's Cokie Roberts about the state of electoral play, one day before the midterm elections.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, over the weekend, we heard a lot from White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan who spoke about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (Counterterrorism Advisor, White House): AQAP, as an organization as a whole, is something that we need to maintain pressure on, working very close with Yemeni officials, and we will destroy that organization, as we're going to destroy the rest of al-Qaida.

INSKEEP: John Brennan or JB, spoke on CNN about AQAP and were going to talk about this more with NPR's CR, Cokie Roberts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: We have talked in the past about how security threats can affect elections. And here's one just days before an election. Is there possible - any possible impact here?

ROBERTS: Unlikely, Steve. Nothing happened and they're no scary pictures; and what the polls are telling us over the weekend going into this election is exactly what they've been telling us all along about this election, which is it's all about the economy.

INSKEEP: All about the economy, and that suggests why Republicans are facing the possibility of solid gains tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Absolutely, although the Republican senator charged with electing Republicans to the Senate, John Cornyn, yesterday implied that he doesn't think that the Republicans will take that body this year. He says this cycle is not likely to happen. And that's because the Democrats who are running, even though a lot of them are in very tight races, are mainly in Democratic states, so that they have a better shot. And they also, in some cases, have been blessed by their opponents.

But the House, of course, is a very different situation. And there, again, the latest polls continue to show in that generic ballot, which party would you prefer to control the House, the Republicans running ahead. The Democrats keep saying well, it's all about the ground game, getting out their voters. And they have a point, because when you look at these polls, the difference between people who say they are likely voters...

INSKEEP: Um-hum.

ROBERTS: ...and those of the whole general electorate, are large. Likely voters are much more Republican, much more engaged, much more energized than registered voters. So Democrats can find a way to get those unengaged voters to the polls, that would be better for them.

INSKEEP: What indications are you getting about independent voters, the kinds of voters who swung to President Obama in 2008?

ROBERTS: They are the biggest group in the electorate, and they are - say they are more certain to vote than they normally do, and they - and more independents say they are certain to vote than Democrats say they are certain to vote.

Look, these are the voters who say they want change, and as you say, they went overwhelmingly for Obama two years ago. They say they want new ideas, new direction, and now they favor the Republicans by 21 points in that generic ballot. So that really - that shows you why we've been swinging so much from one election cycle to another, is those independent voters. And at this cycle it looks like they're swinging Republican.

INSKEEP: And what other voter groups are you looking at, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Well, we always look at women because they're the biggest group in the electorate. And right now - and they have been a traditionally Democratic voter. And right now you're seeing women split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans. That's bad news for Democrats. Hispanic voters went overwhelmingly for Obama two years ago, and they are, have been turned off by the Republican Party in recent months because of rhetoric over immigration.

But a couple of things to look at here, Steve. Marco Rubio in Florida, likely to be elected to the Senate, a Hispanic Republican; and in New Mexico, Martinez, a Hispanic woman, first Hispanic woman likely to be elected governor, also a Republican, woman of color. And another woman of color, Nikki Haley, likely to be elected a Republican governor in South Carolina, so that could change attitudes toward the party.

INSKEEP: OK, very interesting. NPR's Cokie Roberts with us on this Monday before a Tuesday election, and we'll be listening for the results throughout the week, here on NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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