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Window Narrows For Midterm Voters To Make Up Their Minds


If the 2016 election taught us anything, it's the polls cannot predict anything with absolute certainty. So who knows who will hold the reins of power when it's all over? But we do know one thing about this election; there are a whole lot of people voting. In fact, voter turnout is on track to be the largest for a midterm election in several generations. In Texas, for example, the number of people who have already voted has surpassed that state's total voter turnout four years ago. And with just one day left to campaign, both parties this past weekend brought out the big guns.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Not only do the Democrats' open-border policies drain our Treasury, but they endanger every American community. And you people know that better than anybody.


BARACK OBAMA: They're telling us that the single most grave threat to America is a bunch of, like poor, impoverished, broke, hungry refugees a thousand miles away.

MARTIN: That was President Obama campaigning in Gary, Ind., and President Trump in Chattanooga, Tenn. We have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is our headliner this morning. She's with us now. Hey, Mara.


MARTIN: How's the race look? One day left.

LIASSON: The race looks remarkably stable, even though we've had a lot of wild and crazy turns. The House still looks like it's trending Democratic. The Senate looks very favorable for Republicans to maybe increase their majority a little bit. It's almost like a parliamentary election. This is a referendum on the president and his party, as most midterms are, but we've never had a president who's embraced that as much as Donald Trump. He says, I'm not on the ballot, but I am on the ballot.

MARTIN: Right.

LIASSON: I think if you wanted to express this election in a mathematical formula, I think this election will answer the question, does America equal Trump or not? This election will be either a validation or a repudiation of Trump's leadership style and his values. And one thing we have seen in the last week or so is that the enthusiasm gap, which favored Democrats, has narrowed, and Republicans are also now really energized.

MARTIN: So Democrats not feeling as confident as they once were in this.

LIASSON: Well, Democrats are nervous, and they have reasons to be nervous because even paranoids have enemies. There're a lot of reasons. The generic ballot is shrinking. In other words, the Democrats have a 6-to-7-point advantage. But just to break even in House seats, they need a very big national vote advantage because of redistricting, that the district lines are drawn to favor Republicans. Also, Democratic voters are clustered inefficiently in urban areas. They're nervous because they depend on big turnout among young people and Hispanics, who have not delivered in the past. They're nervous because the economy is really good, and that should be helping Republicans. And the stakes are very, very high for them because they're shut out of so many branches of government. And I guess we should just say that the success for Democrats is defined as taking back the House and making substantial gains in states' elections for governors and state legislatures and, of course, minimizing their losses in the Senate.

MARTIN: I mean, you mentioned the strong economy at this moment, Mara, which should be really buoying Republicans. But it's not something that the president - I mean, it's not his main message when he's going to these campaign rallies; it's all about immigration.

LIASSON: It really isn't. He even said in West Virginia on Friday - he said, they all say, speak about the economy, speak about the economy. He says, but sometimes, it's not as exciting to talk about the economy - right? - because we have a lot of other things to talk about. And what he meant was immigration and race and crime. And he really believes that fear and anger turn out voters, especially his base voters; gratitude for the good economy is not going to motivate them. These are the arguments he's been making since 2016. They worked for him then. And the big question is whether they'll work when he's not on the ballot.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, he - if he has figured out anything, it's the emotional component of campaigns, right? And the media and all the critics got all upset because he broke so many conventions and norms in 2016, so we'll just have to see if this works again for him in a midterm. He's never run in a midterm.

LIASSON: That's right. He's only run in one election. And in the past, presidents have had a hard time translating the popularity they have with their base to other voters. We're going to find out if Trump can do what he did during Republican primaries. He would endorse someone, and they would win. It was almost magical. Let's see if he can do that in a general election.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.