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Should Democrats or Republicans be optimistic for midterm elections?

Democrats are forecast to make gains in the House when voters go to the polls Nov. 6, while Republicans may fare better in Senate races, where they hold the advantage. But with more than 200 women running for the House and Senate, the makeup of Congress could be significantly altered. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Before the mid-term elections on November 6th NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield will be heading out for a look at some key races. He recently joined me for a preview of what's at stake.

    Let's start with the overall terrain. The general mood about the midterms and the Dems have good reason to be optimistic?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Well the first thing is that just a president's party almost always loses seats in a midterm election. There have been like two exceptions in the last two years. Second a party's prospects are generally linked to their president's approval ratings currently trumps average approval rating this past month is about two points lower than Obama in 2010 when Democrats suffered a disastrous midterm. But there are specific problems this time for Republicans. First some 40 Republican incumbents are leaving while only 18 Democrats have announced their retirements. And it's just easier to flip an open seat. Second 25 House Republicans are in districts carried by Hillary Clinton. Two years ago mainly in suburban districts literally from coast to coast. Only 13 Democratic seats are in Trump friendly districts. And it is here in suburban America where the president's approval ratings are particularly low. Third unlike the last midterms when Republicans were on the offensive on issues like Obamacare this time voters are concerned about threats to health care and the GOP signature issue, those tax cuts, are actually meeting with disapproval. So right now with 42 Republican House seats in danger and only three Democratic seats in danger oddsmakers say there's a 4 to 1 chance that the Democrats will win the necessary 23 seats to get control of the House. Let's remember however that Hillary Clinton was a 3 to 1 favorite on Election Day two years ago. Let's talk about the Senate the Senate is completely different. The map for 2018 is nothing less than a nightmare for the Democrats. Only one Republican seat is in a state Clinton carried. That's Nevada. But 10 Democratic incumbents are running in states that Trump carried five of them by landslides. And in those states Trump's approval ratings are better than his national average right now. Democratic senators are facing serious challenges in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana. GOP seats are vulnerable in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and maybe Texas. Democrats need a net gain of two Senate seats to take control of that chamber. It's in the red states where the Kavanaugh nomination may play out particularly influentially. Remember only senators not congressmen not House members vote on confirmation. The feeling was that these red state Democrats might be pushed to vote for confirming Kavanugh – the recent allegations may make that differently. Also in these states centrist Democrats are going to be pushed by their Republican opponents on immigration and on whether they embrace the policies of the more progressive left swing of the National Democratic Party.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You also point back to the state races. Why?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Because well all the attention is on the House and the Senate, the national scene, is that it's at the state level where many of the key policy decisions are made and it is at the state level where the political outcomes are November and some ways are going to be really really critical. Big Republican gains in 2010 and 2014 gave the GOP full political control in key swing states. And it is at the state level that issues are decided on everything from the power of organized labor to taxes to abortion to environmental rules. And the governors elected this year will have a big voice in drawing lines for congressional and legislative seats. Remember the Republican gains back in 2010 led to a net gain for some 17 House seats in the U.S. Congress according to the Brennan Center. Right now Democrats are ahead in governors races in Illinois Michigan New Mexico and about even in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, and Nevada. So on election night the state races deserve as much attention as the House and the Senate. But we can't look at the midterm preview without noting the diversity story an astonishing number of women 180 plus on the Democratic side and more than 50 Republican women are the nominees of their parties for the House. And we're looking at the possibility for instance of African-American governors in Georgia and Florida. This really may wind up being a very different looking political climate once November is over.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jeff Greenfield that's a lot to think about as you go out on your reporting trip. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Pleasure.

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