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Where Republican Money Is Going In Final Midterm Push

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a tough midterm election for Republicans, although there is no evidence yet that they're doomed. Though the party in power usually loses ground, Republicans are favored at this moment to hold the Senate. They are long shots at best to keep the House, although many of the decisive elections there are close. So where do Republicans place their final bets? Steven Law is with us again. He leads the Senate Leadership Fund for the Republican side. Good morning. Thanks for coming by.

STEVEN LAW: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So would you just explain what the role is of groups like yours at this moment when individual Democratic star candidates, people like Beto O'Rourke of Texas, have raised tons of money? What does a group like yours do for the Republican side?

LAW: Sure. Well, we look at all these different races, we try to figure out which ones are the most competitive and most importantly where our own involvement would make a critical difference. And so we're placing our last bets in these final weeks in the same way that outside groups on the other side are as well.

INSKEEP: Would you give me an idea of where some of those bets are going?

LAW: Sure. As Majority Leader McConnell described it pretty colorfully, he said a lot of these races, if not all of them, are knife fights in dark alleys. They're very, very close. And so we're investing in states like Indiana and Arizona and Tennessee, Nevada, Missouri, West Virginia - all states where those races are essentially within the margin of error. And these are states where our money matters.

INSKEEP: Unimaginable even a year ago that you would have to invest money in Tennessee to keep a Republican Senate seat on the Republican side.

LAW: Well, yeah. I mean, Tennessee has definitely become a much more Republican state. Democrats recruited a very strong candidate in Phil Bredesen, and he's somebody who's known to the electorate. So this is a much more hard-fought race than many thought. Our view was that it was going to be competitive from the get-go, and it hasn't disappointed.

INSKEEP: I actually thought it wasn't that close in the last couple of weeks, but you're saying it's not decided. You want to put some money there.

LAW: Oh, you know, we've been active for weeks and weeks there. We think it's a pretty close race. We're very bullish on Marsha Blackburn, but this is a tough race.

INSKEEP: Are you still supporting Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, who's trying to win a Senate seat but has fallen behind in the latest polls against Bill Nelson?

LAW: Yeah. Our view actually is that Rick Scott is narrowly ahead, and we think that's a very competitive race. We have not invested there to date in part because he has his own superPAC and obviously a fair amount of money of his own. But we're very interested in that race, and we think that one is going to be one of the ones that we'll be seeing in the win column by the time it's all over.

INSKEEP: Oh, so whatever survey I saw, you don't accept. You've got your own polling or your own (unintelligible).

LAW: Yeah, no, I think it's a very close race, but I think he is a few points ahead, and I feel like he's favored to win there.

INSKEEP: What about the massively publicized Ted Cruz-Beto O'Rourke race in Texas?

LAW: It's an exciting race. It's got a lot of color to it and personality. I think at the end of the day, Ted Cruz wins that race, notwithstanding all the money that Beto O'Rourke has raised. I think Beto's problem is that he peaked too early, got a lot of attention particularly from the national press. And I think his Texans have taken a good, hard look at that. They've said he seems like a nice young man but not ready to represent Texas.

INSKEEP: So a couple weeks ago, we were in Kentucky talking with voters. We were in a particular House district, but you get a representative slice of people. And it seemed to us that it was a nationalized election, by which I mean people know a lot about President Trump. They have opinions, but they don't necessarily know their candidates all that well. In the races you're focused on, is this really a nationalized election?

LAW: Oh, very much so. I think midterms often are. I mean, this is the first election you have to make at least some sort of a course adjustment if you want to with respect to the current president. That was the case obviously with President Obama in 2010. Senate races are a little bit different. The candidates are bigger. The campaigns are bigger. You know, we feel reasonably certain that the Republicans will hold the Senate majority, but there's a lot of significant issues that could complicate that as we head to the final weeks.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

LAW: Well, the map is very much in Republicans' favor.

INSKEEP: Sure.

LAW: This is a favorable political topography for us in these races. But Democrats have some good candidates, and the most important thing is they have a huge financial advantage race by race. Candidate by candidate, Democratic candidates are outspending Republican candidates by a factor of 2 or 3 or 4 to 1, and that's a very, very significant disparity, which means groups like ours need to come in and try to make it more of a fair fight.

INSKEEP: News reports indicate that groups like yours have more money than the corresponding Democratic groups. But you're saying the individual Democratic candidates have the war chests.

LAW: Yes, that's right. I mean, in some cases, because they're incumbents, they were able to raise this money over six years while ours had to go through primaries and that sort of thing. But there is a significant candidate-versus-candidate disparity. Fortunately, we do have more resources in the closing weeks, and we're going to use that to our maximum advantage.

INSKEEP: Part of the reason it's a nationalized election, of course, is because President Trump has wanted it so, has made it about him in the way that he's talked about the election and campaigned for people. And he's made a lot of provocative statements while campaigning in recent days. Let's listen to just one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, they have a word - it sort of became old-fashioned - it's called a nationalist. And I say really, we're not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.

INSKEEP: OK. Nationalist - that can just mean in favor of the nation. But people hear that and they hear white nationalist. He knows that's what people here. That's why he knows he's not supposed to say it. Is it helpful for the president to be kind of signaling in that direction?

LAW: Look; I think in the states where we're competing for the Senate, I think him being a big factor in this race is helpful. I think a lot of people hear that verbiage, and they're concerned about border security. They're concerned about immigration security. They're concerned about trade. And on those issues, I think in the states where we're competing, he is on the side of the majority of voters. You know, I think you have to be careful about that kind of language. Obviously, it could be provocative. But on issues like trade, on immigration, he is singing the tune of a majority of voters in these states where we're competing for Senate seats.

INSKEEP: In the very specific places where you're trying to keep the Senate.

LAW: Yes.

INSKEEP: Steven Law, thanks very much for coming by, always appreciate it.

LAW: Well, thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: He is with the Senate Leadership Fund. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.