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Midterm Elections: The Final Sprint To Sway Voters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The midterm elections are just days away now. A lot of people have already voted, but both major parties have some of their biggest names out on the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Republicans believe we must defend our borders. We have to defend the borders of our country. And that country is...

BARACK OBAMA: If they keep control of Congress, you'd better they're coming after your health care.

MIKE PENCE: Four-point-five million new jobs created in the last two years.

JOE BIDEN: We will win on Tuesday, and we will take back this country.

PENCE: Keep it going. Vote Republican.

OPRAH WINFREY: Let your vote make a difference. Let your vote count. Let your vote speak for you.

MARTIN: That was President Trump in Montana this afternoon, followed by former President Obama in Florida yesterday as well as Vice President Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden. And even Oprah Winfrey was working to get out the vote this week. NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor is here to tell us more about how this final sprint of the 2018 campaign is going.

Jessica, welcome back.

JESSICA TAYLOR, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: So where is Trump campaigning in these final days, and what does that tell us about the GOP strategy?

TAYLOR: Trump's schedule shows that Republicans are focused on defending the Senate. That is the most important job for them right now. Today, he's in Montana and Florida, and then he's going to Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri and Indiana in the final days. Now, notice he's not going to places with the most vulnerable House seats because he might hurt them there more than he helps. And he seemed to concede as much yesterday, admitting that Republicans could lose the House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It could happen. We're doing very well, and we're doing really well in the Senate. But it could happen. And you know what you do? My whole life, you know what I say? Don't worry about it. I'll just figure it out.

TAYLOR: Trump likes to take credit for winning, and by campaigning in these Senate states, where he's still relatively popular - in some places, he won by upwards of 20 points in 2016 - he can still say on Tuesday, even if they lose the house, that, hey, look - I saved the Senate.

MARTIN: Let's talk about immigration for a minute. In recent days and recent weeks, the president's message has gotten really intense - harsh, even, I might say. Is that what his campaign is focusing on today?

TAYLOR: Republicans wish that he were focused a little bit more on the economy probably, especially after a really good jobs report on Friday. And he did talk about it at the top of his rally in Montana. But he still spent most of the time talking about immigration and this approaching caravan of migrant families from Central America seeking asylum. Now, of course, they're still far away from the border, and he said this week he'll send between 10,000 and 15,000 troops in a speech at the White House, which was really just a more official looking version of his stump speech sort of stoking these fears. And he even said that he would authorize them to fire on any migrants who were throwing rocks at the troops, and that he had to walk that back later on Friday.

You know, they're making a bet here that they can double down on this strategy of fear, really. And it's something that worked for Trump in 2016. That's the only campaign he's ever run. So he thinks that it worked then, but this is a much different election. When you're looking at the House especially, it's so different, and I'm not sure that you can win by running just a base election.

MARTIN: So what are Democrats saying in response to that?

TAYLOR: They're really trying not to take the bait. Democrats are saying this is just the politics of fear and racism.

MARTIN: Well, then, do they have a message to counter that?

TAYLOR: They've really been focused on health care - has been the issue that we have seen the most in ads by Democratic candidates and Democratic campaigns. The fact that the Republican health care plan that passed the House would have weakened protections on preexisting conditions - this is something that even Republicans are running ads now saying, hey, we would do this even when the bill they voted for would have weakened them.

You know, this is a winning issue for them, according to polls, and we will see if it bears that out on Tuesday. They lost the House in 2010 largely because of Obamacare's unpopularity. But, eight years later, this is the thing that could help them win it back. You know, and they're also stressing you have to go to the polls. If you didn't go out in 2016, look what happened. They especially need minorities to turn out - Latinos, African-Americans - and especially young voters as well.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jessica Taylor.

Jessica, thank you.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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