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Republicans Brace For Donald Trump's Impact On Down-Ballot Races


This November, Americans will go to the polls to elect the president of the United States. Also up for grabs are 34 seats in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. So how will the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump affect those so-called down-ballot races? Ken Rudin is host of the "Political Junkie" podcast. He joins us from Los Angeles where he is attending Politicon. Think Comic-Con for all things political. More about that in a minute. Thank you for being with us, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Thank you, Linda.

RUDIN: So let's start in the Senate - 34 seats contested, 24 currently held by Republicans. What's catching your attention?

RUDIN: Well, the Republicans are nervous. They're worried about the top of the ticket. As you say, there are 24 seats up, and there are quite a few of them that are vulnerable. Matter of fact, Mark Kirk of Illinois, perhaps the most vulnerable of all Republicans seeking re-election, announced the other day that he can not support Donald Trump. And I don't think you've seen that for any Republican senator since Goldwater in '64. So, you know, just because the top of the ticket may not be popular doesn't necessarily mean the party will lose the bottom of the ticket. Think McGovern and Mondale in '72 and '84. Both of them lost 49 states in November, but the Democrats picked up seats in the Senate that year.

RUDIN: Are they nervous that people might just decide to stay home, not come out and vote?

RUDIN: Well, that's what it really is. I mean, I - every now and then you do see Republicans for Hillary, those kind of organizations popping up. But when you see people like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who is up for a tough fight for re-election, she voted for all four gun control measures last week because she just wants something to get done. You have John McCain in Arizona saying - the Latino population in his home state of Arizona, they despise Donald Trump but he's scared to death. You have Marco Rubio in Florida - the Republicans were desperate to get him back in the race because until he got back in the race they felt that it was a lost cause. And it still may be a lost cause. And as you say, Linda, with a lot of Republicans either threatening to bolt to the other side or, even worse, stay home, these Republicans are nervous.

WERTHEIMER: Democrats don't have as much to lose in the Senate, obviously. Do you think they're feeling any kind of pain from Hillary Clinton?

RUDIN: No. I mean, here's the difference. I mean, if - look, Hillary Clinton does have high negatives, as does Donald Trump, but her party definitely supports her. There only seems to be only two Democratic seats that are worth looking at in November - the open seat in Nevada where Harry Reid is retiring and maybe Michael Bennet, the Democrat in Colorado. But for the most part, every other Democratic seat seems absolutely safe.

WERTHEIMER: We keep hearing that Donald Trump has no ground game and that Hillary Clinton has much more money. Does that matter?

RUDIN: I think it does, and let me tell you why. Go back to 2012. You think of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Both of them really had the same amount of money, give or take, but Mitt Romney spent a lot of his money on television whereas Barack Obama went to the key battleground states around the country, built up a strong campaign organization. And when all was said and done, aside from North Carolina, Obama won every key battleground state. And I think he used the money the right way by building support on the ground and with organizations in those key states.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Now, tell us about Politicon. What's it like?

RUDIN: (Laughter) I was about to say that it's really surreal 'cause it combines politics and celebrity and entertainment. And then I said, wait a second. I just described the 2016 presidential race, you know, the confluence of politics and celebrity. You have Sarah Palin and James Carville. You have Julian Castro and Glenn Beck. I mean, there's a whole bunch of founding fathers walking around the place. One guy was dressed as Alexander Hamilton. I asked him if he could get me any tickets. He had no idea what I was talking about. But it's really kind of weird stuff but nothing weirder than we've seen in this campaign, I guess.

WERTHEIMER: Ken Rudin is host of the "Political Junkie" podcast. Ken, thank you very much.

RUDIN: Thank you so much, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.