JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
While Congress debates the war in Afghanistan, Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a battle over which party will control Congress. One-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are up for election in November. Democrats need 25 seats in the House if they're going to win back that chamber after their big losses in 2010, while Republicans need a net gain of four seats in the Senate if they're to recapture that body after six years in the minority. Ken Rudin, NPR's political junkie, is here to talk about the key races at stake. Welcome to the program, Ken.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Jacki.
LYDEN: So, let's start with the math. I know it's a specialty of yours. What are the two parties looking at in the fall?
RUDIN: Well, as you say, in the House, the Democrats need 25 seats to take it back. Right now, it's 242 Republicans, 191 Democrats. There are two Democratic vacancies. Another 23 House members are retiring, another 15 are running for higher office. We'll get a better picture of the House in a couple of weeks. It's pretty close what's going on in the Senate, though. Of the 33 seats that are up in November, 23 are held by the Democrats. Of the 10 senators who are retiring, seven of them are Democrats.
LYDEN: With more Senate seats at stake, the Democrats, obviously, have more targets. Where do you think their greatest vulnerabilities are?
RUDIN: Well, it's all over the country. A lot has to do, of course, with the state of the economy, with President Obama's numbers. They keep fluctuating as well. But there are some states that we can say right away that the Democrats are in trouble, and a lot of them have to do with retirements. In North Dakota, where Kent Conrad is retiring, that could be a Republican pickup. In Nebraska, where Ben Nelson is retiring, Republicans look very, very strong there. Also in other states, in Hawaii, where Daniel Akaka is retiring; in Virginia, Jim Webb is retiring. That could be good news for the Republicans. In Missouri, Clare McCaskill has been running weak in the polls, as has Jon Tester in Montana. There are a lot of potentially weak Democratic incumbents out there for November.
LYDEN: Ken, is there a chance the Republicans will win the majority?
RUDIN: Sure. I mean, there are, obviously, a lot more Democratic worry spots out there, but the Republicans do have some potential weaknesses as well. In Massachusetts, Scott Brown - he's the one who won the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy - Scott Brown is in the running in a very, very pro-Democratic state. He's running against Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate. Scott Brown realizes he has a tough battle on his hands. And in Maine, Olympia Snowe, the longtime Republican incumbent, was a shoo-in for another term. She announced, surprisingly this month, that she would not seek another term, and that really endangers the Republican hold of that seat.
LYDEN: Ken, as we know, the Republican presidential primary has been particularly divisive and long, and you think that some of that sourness is going to spill over into these House and Senate races?
RUDIN: Well, it could very well. Some of the rhetoric you've heard in the Republican presidential contest about contraception, about reproductive rights, a lot of Republican strategists are nervous that it could alienate female voters, and it's very possible, they fear, that not only will they take out their anger at whoever the Republican presidential nominee will be, but it will translate down ballot lines to Senate and House candidates as well, and that could be bad news for Republican efforts to retain the House and try to capture the Senate.
LYDEN: Thank you very much, Ken.
RUDIN: Thank you, Jacki.
LYDEN: Ken Rudin is NPR's political junkie. His weekly Political Junkie column and his ScuttleButton puzzle appear every Monday at NPR.org/Junkie.
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