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With just 4 weeks to go until Election Day, campaigning is in full swing

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Throughout this month, Americans are voting in the midterm elections.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Republicans are considered favorites to capture the House. Democrats are favored to keep the Senate. But nothing is really predictable with so much on the line. Democrats are hoping abortion and other issues will limit the losses often suffered by the party in power. And Republicans had hoped to make the election a referendum on President Biden, but his predecessor has pushed to make the election about himself. Former President Trump campaigned in Arizona and Nevada over the weekend. He favors Senate candidates there who embraced his false claims about the election he lost. And he praised the size of the crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Do you know the biggest crowd I've ever seen? January 6.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: And you never hear that. It was the biggest - and they were there largely to protest a corrupt and rigged and stolen election.

FADEL: All of that, of course, is not true.

INSKEEP: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is covering the midterms. Hey there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, So the former president went to Nevada and Arizona. What's the importance of those states?

MONTANARO: Well, these are two of the closest Senate races in the country with Democratic incumbents Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona. You know, the Senate is 50/50. Republicans need to net just one seat to take control of the Senate. And these are two of their top targets. You know, Democrats are playing defense, but how far these Republican candidates have had to go to get Trump's endorsement is a real wild card. Trump's far less popular with swing voters, independents, Latinos and Asian American voters, who are all key in both of these purple states.

INSKEEP: I just want to note how unusual it is that Donald Trump is campaigning in this midterm after his election defeat. Normally, the former president is off the stage. The current president faces a kind of referendum in the midterms. And very often, the president will lose some ground, showing a little bit of dissatisfaction with what's going on. Republicans would love to make this a referendum on Joe Biden, but Donald Trump keeps saying, Wait. Wait. What about me? It's about me. It's about me.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, look. He's a factor here. And Democrats believe highlighting Trump's ties to these Republican candidates and abortion rights can really help them. But Republicans are using crime and the cost of living against Democrats. And the economy really is a main concern in many places, especially in a place like Nevada, which has a high white, working-class population and a lot of working-class Latinos. Republicans really see an opportunity with Latinos because of that.

INSKEEP: So there's a handful of states that can decide control of the Senate. Trump was in two of them that you mentioned, Arizona, Nevada. There's a couple of others, like - I don't know - Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania. And then there is Ohio, where Republicans were expected to walk. And the Republican nominee, J.D. Vance for Senate, is instead facing a tough challenge from Tim Ryan, the Democrat.

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's really a great example of a place where Republican ad spending has made a huge difference. You know, Ryan had a big lead, and that's now shrunk on the heels of the Senate Leadership Fund, a group tied to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell spending $52 million in just the last two weeks in some key races to boost Republicans. It shouldn't need to be that way in Ohio for Republicans, a state that's leaned pretty heavily Republican. Because of that Democrat, Tim Ryan's using - is trying to appeal to the middle. Listen to part of this ad with Ryan and his wife, Andrea.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

TIM RYAN: But if we have 10 conversations in one day...

ANDREA ZETTS: ...And we agree on seven...

RYAN: ...We crack a bottle of wine.

ZETTS: Yes, we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF WINE BOTTLE OPENING)

RYAN: The same goes for the country. We have to stop the stupid fights...

ZETTS: ...To find some common ground...

RYAN: ...And be Americans first.

ZETTS: Now, that I can agree with.

MONTANARO: You know, that's really something we've seen in places where candidates are running against the grain. And, you know, tonight's debate and all of these debates down the stretch in Ohio and other places will be critical because for many viewers, this will be the first and only times they'll be able to hear these candidates outside their filtered ads.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.