RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Good morning on this Election Day, a morning when Republicans are waking up optimistic about their chances to take over the Senate, and Democrats are hoping for an upset. In the last few days, polls have shown the Republican advantage in many battleground states solidifying, but that's not to say there won't be any surprises as the results come in tonight. Here to guide us on what to watch as those results come in is NPR politics editor Charlie Mahtesian. Good morning.
CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, we have seen a number of close Senate races shift towards the Republicans in the last days in some states. Where will you be looking for signs that this shift might be real?
MAHTESIAN: Well, Georgia is among the first group of states where the polls close at 7 o'clock Eastern Time. And the Senate race there between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn is likely to give us an early peek at the direction things are going. And now if Republicans can't hold that open Senate seat, that's a very hopeful sign for Democrats.
Now, Iowa and Colorado, on the other hand, they're key parts of a Democratic firewall in the Senate. So in other words, they're among a group of Senate races that are close to essential for Democrats to win. Republicans feel very optimistic about these states and particularly about Iowa. And so if both of those states are breaking toward the GOP, that's a pretty good sign that we're likely to get a Republican Senate majority next year.
MONTAGNE: And where - what states, that is, are Democrats holding out hope?
MAHTESIAN: Colorado is a state where Democrats have a very impressive cutting-edge ground game. So there's a strong belief among many Democrats that their voter turnout efforts in Colorado might save the day for Democratic Senator Mark Udall, despite the fact that there's lots of polling suggesting Republican Congressman Cory Gardner has the edge.
Another place worth watching is Kansas. There's actually no Democratic candidate in Kansas this year, but there is an Independent candidate. And in that state, longtime Republican Senator Pat Roberts could actually lose that race to Independent candidate Greg Orman. And if Republicans lose that seat, that gives a little more breathing room for Democrats, and it forces Republicans to capture one additional Democratic seat elsewhere.
MONTAGNE: Now, Republicans have generally been favored all year to take the Senate, and they've got the math on their side. Democrats are defending a lot of seats in conservative states. But are there other patterns that have emerged to explain why things are shaping up the way they are?
MAHTESIAN: I think you could point to a few things that look promising for Republicans. First the most recent polling suggests that Republicans are running very well with Independent voters this year. There are also signs in some states the Republicans are making some headway in addressing the traditional gender gap. In other words, they're keeping it close or even winning among female voters in many states. Democrats traditionally have an advantage with female voters, and this year many Democratic candidates have zeroed in on so-called women's issues and focused intently on them. But the overall climate is hurting Democrats among women and other groups. And there are indications that in some states, Republicans are disproportionally making gains among men or at least enough to balance things out.
MONTAGNE: And of course, Charlie, there have been many probable 2016 presidential contenders out on the campaign trail this fall campaigning for others - people like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul. What should they be looking for in tonight's results?
MAHTESIAN: Yeah. It's hard not to think the 2016 campaign hasn't started already. I think the candidates you've mentioned have all kept pretty busy schedules this campaign season, and they've crisscrossed the map to lend support to candidates from Maine to California. They've been building their national profiles and also accumulating political chits in the event that they run in 2016. And I think at the end of the day, they're going to be sifting through the results to try to understand what the issue-set is going to look like in 2016, to get a feel for what the party bases care about and what messages are resonating. And I think they'll also be looking at some of the politicians who did well or did poorly tonight because some of those folks are going to be running against them in 2016, or they'll be prospects for the national ticket.
MONTAGNE: On this voting day, NPR politics editor Charlie Mahtesian. Thanks very much.
MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Renee.
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