Electing a Congress, Watching for Change America goes to the polls, electing all the members of the next House of Representatives, one-third of the new Senate and 36 of the nation's governors. Midterm elections in a president's second term are sometimes dramatic, and this one could bring change to the national political landscape, as well.

Electing a Congress, Watching for Change

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


I'm Melissa Block, and the democratic process is underway.

Mr. JORDAN SCHNEIDER: I feel our representation in government has been lacking and I figure it's time for a change.

Ms. MEREDITH MENSON: Our nation needs to refocus its conservative agenda and stay the course in Iraq.

Mr. GREG GUTHRIE: The Republicans are stronger on security matters, which I think is the most important issue in the world today.

Mr. JOHN LINSTEAD: I'm voting for Democrats because of the war. Because we've been lied to for six years.

BLOCK: Some voices from Election Day 2006. Jordan Schneider and Meredith Menson of Rockville, Maryland, Greg Guthrie of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and John Linstead of St. Louis, Missouri, four of the millions of Americans casting their ballots today.

NORRIS: For the most part the voting has gone smoothly, at least by early reports. We'll hear more about that in a few minutes. First, NPR's Mara Liasson is here with us. Mara, what's at stake tonight?

MARA LIASSON: Well, Michele, what's at stake is the House, the Senate and a lot of governor's mansions.

In the House, Democrats need 15 seats to pick up a majority there. In the Senate they need six and right now, in terms of the governor's races that are up today, there are currently 22 Republicans, 14 Democratic governors, so the Democrats would need five seats to have a majority of the governors' seats.

NORRIS: Now it's still early, but if you could, give us a listener's guide. What should we be listening for tonight as those results are coming in?

LIASSON: Well, there will be some early indicators. All of the polls in Kentucky and Indiana are going to be closed by 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, and there are three hot House races in each of those states and they will be bellwethers. If the Democrats sweep those races or pick up two out of the three in those states, I think they will be well on their way to getting a majority in the House. If they don't, it might be a lot tougher for them to get to 15 and they might not be able to.

Also at 7:00 p.m., the polls in Virginia close. There's a very, very close Senate race between George Allen and Jim Webb there. At 7:30 p.m. in Ohio there are four very closely contested House seats. So you see a lot of these contests are on the East Coast. This is a very good night for people who don't want to stay up all night. By 9:00 p.m. almost all of the competitive Senate races besides Montana, the polls will close in those states.

The other thing to watch for tonight is turnout. The conventional wisdom is that a high turnout favors Democrats and a low one favors Republicans, but the estimates are that close to 42 percent of registered voters will vote in this election. That's probably the highest since 1982 and the other thing is that 25 percent of projected voters have already cast their ballots either absentee or in early voting.

NORRIS: Now Mara, what role will exit polls play in tonight's coverage?

LIASSON: Well, exit polls are playing a very different role this time. In past years, some news organizations paid for exit polls to help them project winners earlier in the evening. Sometimes that didn't work very well. Sometimes it worked fine. But NPR is not paying for exit polls tonight. We're going to be basing our projections on actual early returns as reported by the Associated Press and our own analysts' calls.

Another thing that's quite different this year is that there haven't been any leaks of exit polls. You're not hearing on the Internet all the rumors like we did last year that John Kerry was winning when in fact he didn't. The people who do the exit polls have been keeping them under lock and key until right about now, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, when the news organizations that did pay for them can start looking at them.

NORRIS: So a lot of people have been drumming their fingers on their desks all day long. Other than the number of seats lost and won, what other questions might be asked and answered tonight in this consequential election?

LIASSON: Well, I think we're going to find out the vaunted Republican get out the vote machine really is. How important those last minute visits by President Bush were to states like Montana and Kansas and Nebraska and Texas. We're going to find out, I think, how effective the Karl Rove strategy of focusing on the Republican base and kind of ignoring everyone else is, and also how important those scandals were, with the Foley scandal and the Abramoff scandal.

NORRIS: Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

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