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N.H. Senate Race Becomes Focal Point For Both Parties


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Here's a sign of just how tough this fall's campaign is for Democrats. We already know the party is in danger of losing the Senate. Democrats have been in trouble all year in places like Louisiana and Arkansas. Now they're having to work hard even for seemingly secure seats, like in New Hampshire. Senator Jeanne Shaheen is now running a tight race against Republican Scott Brown. NPR senior correspondent Ron Elving is just back from New Hampshire. He joins us now. Ron, lovely season to get a trip to New Hampshire.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Lovely up there right now.

INSKEEP: Really?

ELVING: You know, one of the things you want to do in October in New Hampshire is you want to go up on a hawkwatch.

INSKEEP: A what?

ELVING: That's where you go up to a high place with some binoculars, and you watch for migrating hawks.

INSKEEP: OK. The hawkwatch - birds of prey, which is appropriate for a political discussion, which we're now going to have. Quite a place to be, New Hampshire.

ELVING: Yes, and both species are very active right now. Senator Rand Paul was in last week. Governor Chris Christie's been there, other Republican hopefuls for 2016, also Mitt Romney last week and also former President Clinton.

INSKEEP: Of course, they're all presumed to be there because it's an early primary state - the first primary in the nation, the presidential race. But, of course, theoretically, they're there - or officially they're there, because of this Senate race going on.

ELVING: Yes, incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, as you say. That race has become a focal point right now for both parties.

INSKEEP: How good is it for Republicans, how bad for Democrats?

ELVING: Well, it tells you a little bit about the midterm tide and how far it has risen right now. Scott Brown's been stressing the link between Shaheen, who's personally quite popular in New Hampshire, and President Obama, who's down below 40 percent approval in that state. And there's a common theme there. We're hearing that from Republican challengers all over the country this fall.

INSKEEP: OK. So the Republicans are trying to make this a national race, their chance to capture the Senate. And is there a clear reason that Republicans have been doing better and better in polls?

ELVING: There's a lot of really evident anxiety around the country, Steve. Look, for example, at the campaign day that Senator Shaheen had on Saturday. In the morning, she attended a memorial service for James Foley; that's the journalist who was beheaded by ISIS last summer. He was from Rochester, New Hampshire, and Saturday would have been his 41st birthday.

INSKEEP: OK. So a lot of unsettling news from overseas and some of it coming back to the United States, for example, Ebola. That would certainly be something that makes people anxious. How does that affect people's moods?

ELVING: You know, I asked her about what effect all this bad news was having. And this is what - some of what, she had to say.

INSKEEP: Jeanne Shaheen.

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: You know, I think people are anxious about the future, and they're concerned. And they want to feel like there are leaders in place who can address the challenges that we face, whether it's the threat from ISIS or whether it's Ebola. People want to feel like there are decision-makers who can address those issues and make sure that we're safe here in America, that we have opportunities for our children for the future and that the country's going to be all right.

INSKEEP: And you hear the kind of thing that happens in a situation like this. We've had experts say, for example, that a travel ban with West Africa makes no sense, but people call for a travel ban. Scott Brown has called for a travel ban. What is Jeanne Shaheen saying about all that?

ELVING: She said she sees it as ineffective and, in fact, counterproductive at this point, which is essentially the position that's been taken by the White House. And whatever you think about the merits of that question, as you just suggested, there's a lot of popular sentiment right now in the country for a travel ban after the last couple of weeks over these Ebola stories. And so for Jeanne Shaheen to be siding with the president plays into Scott Brown's main campaign theme.

INSKEEP: So what does New Hampshire tell you more broadly about the prospects of Republicans capturing the Senate in 2014?

INSKEEP: There's a sense here that if Scott Brown can get back into the Senate after losing so badly in Massachusetts two years ago...

INSKEEP: Oh, that's right. He was at a different state.

ELVING: Yes, that's right, a more liberal state. And he moved into New Hampshire, and he won the primary then in September. And if he can get back into the Senate here in New Hampshire, that'll mean that the big wave we've been talking about this fall is happening and carrying the day, even where Democratic incumbents had not been seen as endangered.

INSKEEP: Ron, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior correspondent Ron Elving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.