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Will focusing on the president pay off for Republicans?

In some midterm Senate races, Republicans have tried to leverage negative public opinion of the president against their Democratic challengers. Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report join Gwen Ifill to discuss the strategies behind some of the tight races and what to watch on Election Night.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    For more on the tightening political races and what to be watching on election night, we are joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, who will be part of our election night team.

    Kentucky's interesting to watch. But what — where is the momentum in this race tonight, Amy? What are you watching?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, the momentum — and we talked about this the other week — it seems to really be shifting to Republicans, especially in the last week.

    And we're even seeing some movement now in some of these states like Georgia, where it's been a very, very tight race, some new polls out suggesting that the Republican, David Perdue, may be opening a bigger lead, maybe even getting closer to 50 percent. That's the magic number you need to avoid runoff in that state. I still think it's very close. But you just sort of still see in the polling and in just talking to folks on the ground the feeling is that this momentum really moving now to Republicans.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What are you watch, Stu?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report:

    I would agree.

    I think Judy's piece was excellent because it focused on a race where early on it was about a candidate who wanted to nationalize and another candidate who wanted to localize. And the whole Democratic argument about Alison Lundergan Grimes is no legislative record, young, candidate for change, good contrast with an older Washington figure, somebody who is associated with Congress and D.C.

    And for a while, she was running very well, she was running ahead of them. But as voters focused on the general election, they focused on the larger picture, not just the candidates, but what it meant for Kentucky and coal and Barack Obama. And that's when the race turned.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. So, take that theory and let it play out someplace else, like Kansas, where this is a younger candidate running against an older incumbent, and Pat Roberts isn't doing nearly as well as Mitch McConnell so far.

  • AMY WALTER:

    True, but it's a place where it's about an internal struggle within the Republican Party in that state, as opposed to a choice between a Democrat and a Republican.

    The independent — in fact, the candidate running against Pat Roberts is an independent, so it's not as quite clear. But he has been shown to try to make that race.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Gwen, you picked the exception that proves the rule.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    In that race, the Republican, Pat Roberts, made the race about himself.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    McConnell didn't do that. McConnell kept the focus on the president and linking Grimes and the president.

    In Kentucky, in Kansas, and even earlier in Georgia, David Perdue, the Republican, made the race about himself and now he is trying to turn this around and in the final days, he is saying it's all about Barack Obama.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Same with North Carolina.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Same with North Carolina.

  • AMY WALTER:

    North Carolina was another place where Democrats tried to nationalize — tried to localize it, did a very good job early on. As the race became focused on the president, the numbers started to shift to the Republicans.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But in North Carolina, Kay Hagan, at least in these closing days, seems to be solidifying some small lead, no?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    I think Tillis has gained a couple of points.

    The difference — and each one of these states is different. The difference with North Carolina is President Obama won it once, Mitt Romney won it once. It's a swing state now.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We could talk the entire time about the Senate. As a matter of fact, I will for one more minute.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    New Hampshire, Colorado, they're also kind of slippery here at the last minute.

  • AMY WALTER:

    They are. And, again, these are places where the president did well in the past, but the big difference is, this is not a 2012 electorate, not only the same kind of people showing up, but the kinds of people that were supportive of the president in 2012 now have soured on him.

    So there's no enthusiasm among the Democratic base, even in states where Obama had carried.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    The race has tightened. I was skeptical about Scott Brown, feeling that his years in the Senate from Massachusetts might be disqualifying or close to disqualifying.

    Apparently, the voters in New Hampshire are not so certain about that. And most of the polls show that he has made up ground. I still think, if I had to put a nickel on the race, I would put it on Shaheen, but it's become much closer than I expected.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    A lot of those population centers in southern New Hampshire are people who have moved from Massachusetts, so maybe it's…

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But let's say in New England for a minute, because the governor's races there have turned out to be kind of surprising.

  • AMY WALTER:

    They have been.

    And, look, Republicans do well in New England, believe it or not, for governor's races. Many times, it's because voters there want to put a check on a Democratic-controlled legislature. And a Republican can help to do that. In this case, too, in a place like Rhode Island, it's not simply putting a check on a Democratic legislature, but it's a Democratic base that is split because the Democratic candidate basically ran against labor.

    And in a state where you need labor to come out and vote for you, that could be the deciding factor.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Governor's races are a lot about local issues, local coalitions, personality.

    And it is remarkable, when you look at Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, states the Republicans are — almost never compete in, in federal races, they're very competitive. Then you go down to Maryland, and Larry Hogan Jr., the Republican, is competitive. And then you go out West and look at Kansas, a very Republican state which may go Democratic for governor, and Alaska may go Democratic for governor.

    Governor's races are quirkier. They're harder for me to predict, because, on Senate races, we look, first of all, at party. You can't quite look quite as much on party in governor's races. Party still matters, but not definitively.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's kind of hard to depict House races that tell us anything about more about that district. But are there any in particular that you're watching?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, I think New Hampshire is always a good place to start.

    One, the polls close earlier. But, two, New Hampshire is a state that has in the past really gone with wherever the mood was. And you saw, in 2006, those two congressional seats went to Democrats in that wave; 2010, two seats went to Republicans. Seeing how those states react in this election may tell us what to expect.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes, I'm looking at races that have been close the past few cycles, maybe seats that switched back and forth.

    The Nan Hayworth district, Maloney, a Democrat in — north of New York City, which has gone back and forth. See what happens there. There's a district on Eastern Long Island, Tim Bishop, a Democratic, with a Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin, always a 51-49 race. I wonder if the environment is strong enough for the Republicans this time, so instead of the Democrat getting 51, Zeldin gets 51, races like that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Amy used the W-word, wave. Is there going to be a wave election tomorrow night?

  • AMY WALTER:

    So, everyone has a different definition of what a wave is.

    My definition of a wave is seats that go that shouldn't have gone, right, that it was more than simply a good candidate running a good campaign and at the last minute the race broke for them. It is unexpected candidates winning.

    I don't have a — I don't see that coming. If there is a wave, it would be somebody that like Al Franken in Minnesota, Democrat, or Democrat Mark Warner in Virginia loses.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    I will stick with atmospherics and talk about a breeze.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    And I think there's a pretty good breeze behind the Republicans, but I don't know how strong it is. Looks pretty good, though.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Breeze, wave, rising tide lifting boats, we will talk about it all tomorrow night.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    We will.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We will look for you then.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Thanks.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Thanks.

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