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What To Expect In This Week's Elections

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Huge amounts of money are being spent across the country to motivate you to vote one way or the other come Tuesday. But polls show most voters just aren't paying attention. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, is here to talk about why. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi. How're you doing?

RATH: Good. So not a lot of excitement, supposedly, around this election season - voters not fired up they were during the presidential election or even the last midterms, four years ago.

LIASSON: Well, that's right. And there's no doubt that nationally, the numbers of voters who say they are highly interested is less than in 2006 and 2010 - the last two midterms - which is amazing since this is the most expensive midterm election ever. Four billion dollars has been spent. On the other hand, in the latest NPR poll, in the battleground states, both sides are equally interested, and there are a lot of high-interest voters. But you're absolutely right. This has been characterized as the everybody hates everybody election. Voters are really disgusted, and there's no doubt about it that that's one of the key features of this election.

RATH: So what is the apathy mean for both sides' get-out-the-vote efforts?

LIASSON: Well, it means they have to work really hard. This is not a persuasion election. In other words, the targets are not persuadable voters who haven't made up their minds. Both parties are focusing on their own partisans, and they want to get them to the polls. So get out the vote field operations - the ground game - is extremely important.

And Democrats traditionally have had an advantage in this. Republicans are trying to catch up this year by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in data and field offices. But in the midterm elections, Republicans have the easier job because their coalition - older, whiter, more rural, more married - tend to turn out in midterms. Democrats, on the other hand, are really pushing a rock uphill because their coalition - younger, more single women, more minorities - tend to stay home in midterm elections.

RATH: Even with that disadvantage, there are some races that are very close and very divisive. What are the races you're watching for Tuesday?

LIASSON: Well, it is interesting. There are a higher than usual number of close races within the margin of error. I'm going to be looking for signs of a wave. A wave means that all the close races break in one direction. So what I'm looking at first - because the polls close early - is New Hampshire. That'll give us an indication. If Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent, is defeated there, I think it's a sign that it's a bad night for Democrats. Same thing with North Carolina, where the polls close relatively early. If Kay Hagan, the Democrat, loses there - also a sign of a bad night. And then the next two states that I'll be looking at is Georgia and Kentucky. That's where Republicans are defending seats where Democrats had hopes of making a pick-up.

RATH: So does that give you any clarity for the big question? You know, who is going to have control of the Senate when all is said and done?

LIASSON: Well, I think Republicans are poised to take control of the Senate. In every second term midterm when a president had a Senate majority, his party has lost it. History tells us that divided government - when one party has the White House and one party has both houses of Congress - is the most productive government, which is pretty interesting. Or the other theory is we'll just get more gridlock, but it'll be slightly more clarifying gridlock. And whatever it means, the next two years are guaranteed to set the table for the 2016 elections.

RATH: Mara, you mentioned a number of women in some very key races across the country. In a moment, we're going to be talking why there aren't even more women candidates running for office. But leaving this at the candidates, what about women voters?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. Democrats have, in the past, benefited from the gender gap, particularly in presidential elections. Democrats do really, really well with unmarried women. In the last presidential election, Republicans - Mitt Romney actually in the married women's vote by seven points. Barack Obama won the unmarried women's vote by 29 points. That's how Democrats win the women's vote, generally, but single women tend to stay home in midterms.

RATH: NPR national political respondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.