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What To Expect In The Midterms


This week, we crossed the halfway mark in this year's primary elections. More than half the states have selected their congressional candidates for the mid-term elections, which is a good opportunity to step back and look at patterns taking shape in these votes. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: Let's start with the Republicans. This week, the message was that if you cross President Trump, Republican voters are going to send you home. Is that the defining theme for Republicans this year?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, we've seen it repeatedly in primary after primary that the theme on the Republican side is fealty to this president. We've seen it show up on the policy front on Capitol Hill, too. I mean, remember, these elections don't happen in a vacuum. I always view politicians through the lens of whether they can keep their jobs.

And if Republicans on Capitol Hill are seeing conservatives like Mark Sanford lose like he did this week in South Carolina after Trump came out against him, then you can be sure they're going to be much more reluctant to criticize him. In fact, the only ones we're seeing criticize him or stand against him on Capitol Hill are Senators like Bob Corker from Tennessee or Jeff Flake from Arizona, two people who decided they'd rather retire than face primary voters.

MARTIN: Although we should point out, even though I think it's fair to say President Trump is an extraordinary president for a lot of different reasons, it is normal for candidates to get in line behind the chief executive of their own party.

MONTANARO: Yeah. Some people, though, are more willing to criticize than others, at least in certain wings.

MARTIN: What about the Democrats, what's the big trend with them so far?

MONTANARO: Well, while all the energy on the Republican side is still very much tied to the president's personality or cult of personality, as Bob Corker called it last week, the trend can't be ignored on the Democratic side that it's all about the power of women. Democratic women are clearly leading the resistance to President Trump. A record number of them are running for office, and they're winning primaries.

Here are some numbers for you. OK. In House primaries so far, 103 Democratic women have won primaries out of 193 who've run. That's a pretty good winning percentage, more than half, 53 percent. On the Republican side, though, just 25 Republican women have won. That's compared, again, to 103 Democratic women who've won. Just 60 Republican women have run overall. Compare that to almost 200 on the Democratic side. You know, many of those women, though, are running in districts that Republicans are favored in. But as my colleague Mara Liasson likes to say, you have to have surfboards in the water to catch a wave.

MARTIN: So we have spent the better part of the past year talking about the rifts in the Republican Party, as well as in the Democratic Party, especially after the 2016 election. So in this moment, are both parties as unified as they need to be this close to the election?

MONTANARO: Well, they are both fairly unified in the kinds of candidates that they need. I mean, Democrats, we've seen so far, put off this sort of intraparty fight because they're probably leaving that toward the 2020 knockdown, throwdown battle that's going to take place in the primary because, so far, they're pointing pretty pragmatic people who match the districts and a lot of these suburban districts that they need to win this fall.

MARTIN: Democrats - incredibly focused on taking control of the House. What is their strategy to make that happen?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I - like I said, the suburbs are really important. They're chock-full of affluent, well-educated voters, the ones who are supposedly exactly the kind of people who are frustrated with Trump and purportedly want a change. If Democrats can't win in the two dozen seats that Republicans currently hold that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, you have to question just how big the wave really is.

MARTIN: Political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.