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Politics chat: Biden visits Oregon and Pennsylvania; who will control House and Senate

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden made his second visit to Oregon this year, even though it's not usually considered a battleground state. That's because an unusual three-way race for the state's governor is endangering the Democrats' customary hold on the office. Joining us to talk politics, as she does most Sunday mornings, is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So the president stopped off at a couple of campaign events for the Democratic candidate, Tina Kotek.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What a governor does matters. It matters. It matters. It matters. It matters.

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RASCOE: So what's going on there that's so important that brought Biden out?

LIASSON: Yeah, well, that's a good question. As you said, Oregon wasn't really on anyone's radar screen until recently. It's a reliably blue state. Democrats have held the governor's mansion there for decades. But this is a three-way race. Three-Way races are very unpredictable. There's a Democrat turned independent who's running as the third-party candidate, and she is expected to siphon off votes from the Democratic candidate, possibly letting the Republican candidate win. And Biden hasn't been doing a lot of big rallies, but he has been doing a lot of fundraisers. And Democrats don't want to take this one for granted.

RASCOE: And later this week, Biden's planning on traveling to Pennsylvania to host a fundraiser for the Democratic Senate candidate there, John Fetterman. How key is that race?

LIASSON: Very key. The Senate battleground, you could argue, has shrunk to three states, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia, which - assuming no other seats change hands, whichever party wins two of those states will control the Senate majority in January. And on Friday night, you had the debate between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia. Georgia is considered one of the closest of those three states, although some polls show the Democrat ahead.

In Nevada, the Senate race there is considered the best pickup possibility for Republicans. Nevada has been trending blue, but that state has been hit the hardest by the economic downturn around COVID since they rely so much on tourism. And in Pennsylvania, the Senate race is considered the best pickup opportunity for Democrats. It's an open seat. The Republican retired. You've got John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, running there. He had a stroke. That's something Republicans are talking about a lot. He's running against the Trump-endorsed celebrity TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, who's actually from - has a residence in New Jersey, which Democrats talk about a lot. But that is very, very key to getting the majority in January.

RASCOE: So Democrats - in the House of Representatives, they have an eight-vote majority. But for months and months, pundits have been predicting they will lose control to the Republicans. Is that still the case?

LIASSON: I think so. But what's changed is that if the weather report for Democrats a couple of months ago was cloudy with a chance tsunami, the red wave has really changed, and it's more of a gushing stream. And Democrats have succeeded to a certain extent in changing this race from a referendum on the party in power to a choice between Democrats and Republicans. It might not be enough to let them keep the majority in the House, but the Republicans might end up with a smaller margin of seats than they would have otherwise.

RASCOE: And, you know, we often don't talk enough about state legislatures, but over the past 15 years, Republicans have really focused their efforts on taking control of those chambers. Are Democrats beginning to wake up to how important those races are?

LIASSON: Well, I think Democrats have woken up for quite a while. It's just that even though they've been trying for a couple of cycles to put more attention and money into state legislative races, they have really gotten very poor results. They lost a thousand seats nationally during Obama's presidency. And right now, the problem for Democrats is that Republicans control about two-thirds of the legislative chambers in the states, and that's extremely important for several reasons. No. 1 is redistricting. We just saw that Republicans had the advantage in the redistricting after the 2020 Senate, not just for congressional districts but also for state legislative districts. In many states, Republicans can get fewer votes statewide but still end up with big majorities of legislative seats. The second reason is abortion. After Roe was overturned, state legislatures now have the power to set abortion law. And the third reason is that there's a case before the Supreme Court, which you and I have talked about before, that would allow state legislatures to have unchecked power over counting and certifying votes in federal elections.

RASCOE: That was NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

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

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.