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How the presidential race could shape key congressional contests

Tuesday represents the last primary elections before November. Once winners are declared in Delaware, we’ll know the nominees for every congressional race in the country. What dynamics are at play in the House and Senate? Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss which races to watch in the contest for control on Capitol Hill as well as the record amounts of money being spent on campaigning.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, today witnesses the last primary elections before November.

    Once winners are declared in Delaware, we will know who all the nominees are for every congressional race across the country.

    Here to break down what to watch for in the fight for control of Capitol Hill, our own Lisa Desjardins.

    Hello to Lisa — to you, Lisa.

    So, let's start with the Senate. Catch us up on the contest to either take over or keep control of the Upper Chamber, now that we're just seven weeks away from Election Day.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, so much to talk about.

    Let's dig right in, the Senate. Democrats need three or four seats. That's the key number. They need to pick up three or four seats to take control of the Senate.

    So, let's go to the graphics, the maps that we have got ready for this.

    First of all, these are the seats that are in play right now. These — there are more tossups increasingly on the map. It's about 12 seats. Here's what Democrats like. If you look at another map, these red states — look at red states. These are vulnerable Republicans. Of those 12 seats in play, 10 of them are Republican.

    So, Democrats have 10 chances, they believe, to pick up the three or four seats they need. Now, what's interesting here, Judy, though, one more map. These are — of those competitive seats, these are the ones in the Senate that are tracking very closely to the presidential race.

    There is no question, Judy, that Democrats are benefiting from Joe Biden doing well, the president falling behind him nationally. And these Senate races could change if that presidential race changes. So that's something we're going to have to watch closely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, not on the list of most vulnerable, but a race we're all watching, and that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

    What does that look like, Lisa?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a fascinating race. Mitch McConnell is currently the third most senior senator in Congress.

    He has survived many challenges before. Some people see him as Teflon. But, this year, he's up against a challenger who has nationwide recognition. Amy McGrath was the first female Marine combat pilot. She closely lost a congressional election in 2018.

    Let's look at the race is looking like between the two of them, massive amounts of money. We will look at some numbers here; $60 million at least has been spent. These candidates are spending more money in their campaign funds than any other race in the country right now.

    Now, in addition, Senate Democrats, however, still see this as a long shot. They would need some help from the presidential race. So, President Trump is a factor in Kentucky. He's very popular in Kentucky. But, if that decreases, if Trump voters do not go out to the polls in Kentucky, Democrats would have a chance, potentially, at unseating Mitch McConnell.

    But I will tell you what, Judy. Republicans like this race, not only because they believe McConnell will win, but they also like that Democrats are sending money here, because they think it's a long shot. They don't want Democratic money going into those other races they believe are closer.

    Who knows. We will have to watch on Election Day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, move over to the House, Democrats clearly in control there now, but what does it look like? What are both parties saying right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK. Here is the big picture, Judy.

    Let's just look at another graphic for that. There are some 55 House seats in play. Of course, that's a very — a smaller fraction of the entire House. But those are the races we're looking at that will decide control. Republicans essentially need about 20 of those seats.

    And what's interesting, Judy, is, half of these competitive seats in the House are held by Democrats, half by Republicans. That's good news for Democrats, because, usually, they would be on defense, after having such a huge year as 2018. Judy, Democrats believe they might be able to pick up some seats, have a larger majority in the fall, if things continue as they are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, you were telling us, yes, these are the numbers, but you're also seeing some bigger trends at work here. Tell us about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Following on the good work of my friend Domenico Montanaro talking about trends electorally, Judy, the suburbs are going to decide so much about the House of Representatives. It's where Democrats are seeing gains, but it's where the vast majority of these competitive seats are, outside of Richmond, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Chicago. That's where the battle of the U.S. House is happening.

    Another couple of things, Judy, we're also seeing a larger-than-usual number of rematches. Nearly a quarter of these competitive races in the House, voters saw before. They're the exact same race that we had two years ago. And these are often Republicans trying to regain a seat they lost in that sweep in 2018.

    And one more thing, Judy, the money. I mentioned this in the McConnell-McGrath Senate race, but it's true almost everywhere. We're seeing historic levels of spending on these House races as well.

    And I'm sorry to tell our viewers, if you live in one of these battleground states or battleground districts, and think you have seen a lot of campaign ads, you probably haven't seen anything yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mind-boggling, a lot of it. And we're going to be looking at some of those ads in weeks to come.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you so much.

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