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What To Watch For As The Midterm Races Start Being Called


In just a few hours, we will begin to hear calls on the 435 House races, 35 Senate races and 36 governors' races around the country. As the night goes along, it may be a while before control of Congress is decided, but there will be key races that will tell us how things are breaking down. Now, here with some intel on that is NPR's lead political editor to Domenico Montanaro. Welcome to the studio.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there. Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So at 7 p.m. Eastern, we're going to start seeing the first races come in, right?

MONTANARO: Absolutely.

CORNISH: Then there's a round of states that close at 8. And I want to start with the House. What are some of the districts or parts of the country that you are going to be watching in that first couple of hours?

MONTANARO: Well, first thing - let me throw up - throw a little cold water on this one race that a lot of people are - will be talking about in Kentucky, the Kentucky 6th Congressional District, where some people may wonder, you know - they've been giving a lot of attention to that race. And they'll say, hey, if the Democrat in that race is doing well, then Democrats might have a chance. But this is a district that is 15 points in favor of President Trump. He won that district by 15 points. And Democrats are not at all confident that they're going to win this race. So certainly if the Democrat is winning there, that might be an indication of a much bigger wave. But the Republicans should do fairly well there.

A better measure might be several races in Virginia, which - Virginia closes in the 7 o'clock hour. What Republicans tell me is that they can't lose more than one race in Virginia. And right now there are four that are up for grabs. And Democrats are already favored to pick up one. So three of those other toss-up races - if one of them goes toward the Democrats, Republicans are - at that point then would feel not at all confident that they would be winning the night.

And when you look in New Jersey, there is the - there's a congressional district in - just outside the Philadelphia - just outside Philadelphia in the suburbs where Congressman Tom MacArthur, Republican, is. If Republicans are losing there, that's another one where Republicans feel like they may have lost the House.

CORNISH: I want to talk a little bit about the Senate now because we're at the point where Republicans actually feel good about maintaining control of that chamber. Where are you going to be looking as the night get - gets underway?

MONTANARO: Well, right away, the first place to look at is Indiana because that's one of the early poll closing states. Must - much of the state closes at 6 o'clock Eastern Time, but it fully closes at 7 o'clock. Joe Donnelly is the Democratic incumbent there. If he's winning or in good shape, then Democrats may have a better-than-expected good night. But if he does not do well and goes down, Republicans have a very real chance of expanding their majority in the Senate.

And then of course at 8 o'clock - in that hour is Florida - ton to watch up and down the ballot from House races to the governor's race. And the governor's race and the Senate race are tied - are essentially tied to each other because the thinking goes, if Democrat Andrew Gillum at the top of the ticket for governor wins, then he might pull Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson over the finish line and help Democrats in the Senate.

CORNISH: Looking back two years ago, there were districts that had voted for President Obama that essentially voted for President Trump - right? - that flipped. Are these true bellwethers? Are you going to be looking at them?

MONTANARO: I think this is the heart of what a lot of us should be watching. There are 21 of these congressional districts that are so-called Obama-Trump districts. You know, a lot of them run through the Northeast. You have upstate New York, Long Island, Staten Island, suburban New Jersey and some in the Midwest. These are places that are going to tell us not just a lot about tonight but also what could be coming in 2020.

CORNISH: If it's close, what places might tell us that we're in for a long night?

MONTANARO: Well, let's get ready for potentially overtime as well. There may or may not even be a decision on control this evening. We may probably not know until at least 11 o'clock because there's about half a dozen California congressional district races that are very close, and that - that's going to be one to watch. Those are slow-counting places.

And then there's the Senate race in Mississippi that could - that is - could go to a runoff. No one's polling above 50 percent there right now. That would go to a runoff in three weeks. Imagine a scenario in which Democrats somehow have a great night tonight in the Senate. It's a 50-49 Senate, and then all eyes go to Mississippi, and all the resources of the entire country essentially descend on Mississippi three weeks from now to see who controls the Senate.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. He'll be with us all night on this NPR station as the results come in. And listen to our election night coverage at NPR starting at 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Thank you. 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.