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Week in politics: Concern over issues, tribalism drives people to the polls

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Voters are voting. Election Day Tuesday. What better time to turn to - what better person to turn to than NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: We've heard so much for so many months. What issues does it seem to you are driving the election now?

ELVING: It depends somewhat on whom you ask. For Republicans, the issues are inflation - put that one in all caps - then crime and immigration. Democrats have pocketbook issues, too, but they're all also talking about abortion rights, climate change and support for democracy, by which they mean rejection of the election deniers and others who have cast doubt on the legitimacy of recent vote counts. And there are other issues on both sides, of course, but those are the salients.

SIMON: What races around the country do you see as especially telling or decisive?

ELVING: Pennsylvania and Georgia are obviously big prizes. But in Arizona, that's some - in some sense, ground zero. Because earlier this year, that state's Republican establishment was defeated in the party's primary. Election deniers, supported by the former president, were nominated for governor and senator, secretary of state. If the regular Republicans turn out for those nominees in their usual numbers, the Trump Republicans may well win. And among other things, that would cost the Democrats one of their seats in the Senate.

Also out west in Nevada, another Democratic Senate seat is very much at risk. And back east, there has been particular interest nationwide in the Georgia Senate race. And unless the Democrats hold on to all three of those - Arizona, Nevada and Georgia - they're going to have a very hard time remaining the majority in the Senate.

SIMON: It's tragic that I even have to raise this. But the attack on Paul Pelosi last week, the threats on the life and family of a Illinois gubernatorial candidate, the kidnapping plot against the governor of Michigan, threats against election officials in Georgia and elsewhere - how worried are you about how dangerous democracy has become in America?

ELVING: It's increasingly worrisome. There has been far too much permission granted for all the things that you're describing, tacit permission and even open approval for extreme measures. Most of it is coming on social media. And with the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, that particular space may be even more of a free-fire zone for extremists.

SIMON: What do you make of the reports that Donald Trump may announce another run for the presidency after Tuesday?

ELVING: That would seem to be in the cards at this point. If indeed the Republicans take the House and especially if some of Trump's endorsees win Senate seats, Trump is going to claim credit. He is going to see this as vindication. So this would be an opportune time for him to announce. It would also enable him to claim he is a political target if and when he is indicted for either his role in Jan. 6th or for the Mar-a-Lago documents.

And by the way, the Justice Department timetable could also be moving up once the election is over. And let's not forget - we are also expecting an announcement in the weeks ahead concerning President Biden's plans for 2024. And Trump is likely to want to get out there first and announce before Biden does and before some of the other Republicans who want to run in 2024.

SIMON: I don't want to anticipate anything when we'll know reality in just a few days, a few hours, really. But a divided government does seem to be assured, doesn't it?

ELVING: Yes, it does. And through most of our lifetimes, that has been the case. It does not always mean that government is hamstrung. It does not always result in gridlock. There have been cases even where a president and a Congress have been very much at odds when they can work together and get something done. We've also seen the opposite.

SIMON: (Laughter) Very recently, I would say. Thanks very much, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Always good to talk to you. And we will particularly look forward to what you have to say next week. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.