MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In TV commercials and on debate stages across America, the attacks are now blistering as candidates see Election Day coming up fast.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
TED CRUZ: The kind of policies Congressman O'Rourke supports - high taxes, high regulations, open borders.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And DeSantis voted five times to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It was disgusting. We have seen a mob rule in Washington, D.C.
CINDY AXNE: Every single one of us is in this together. This is one of the most important elections of our lifetime, and we all...
KELLY: National political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us to talk about what both parties are doing to gain an edge in this final stretch before the midterms. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Hi. So start with the issues. There's all kinds of things that could be weighing on voters' minds these last three weeks - the Kavanaugh hearings, the president's campaign rallies, constant campaign rallies, developments at the border, a crisis with Saudi Arabia. Can we say whether any of those seem to be shifting the playing field?
LIASSON: They are not. There might have been a kind of Kavanaugh bump, but the most important thing to remember about these last two weeks in the election is that the fundamentals haven't changed much at all. The House still looks pretty good for Democrats, not sure if it's good enough for them to get the net 23 pickup seats that they need, the...
KELLY: Which they need, yeah.
LIASSON: Which they need. Senate map looks excellent for Republicans. It always has. That's because there are a lot of Senate Democratic incumbents in very red states where Donald Trump is very popular. We know that Democrats are more energized this year. Republicans are becoming more energized, as they always do in October. We're also seeing signs that they - we might have a very high turnout midterm election, which is pretty rare. People are self-reporting a lot of enthusiasm about voting. We've seen record turnouts in primaries and special elections.
KELLY: And what's the closing argument that both parties are settling on?
LIASSON: Well, the closing argument from Republicans, who began thinking that that tax cut bill and the booming economy would boost them - but as the tax cuts got less popular, their closing argument is now warning voters that Democrats will take away the tax cuts, put regulations back on the economy, wreck the economy.
They're kind of reverting to the Trump culture war issues, which do energize their base, talking about hordes of criminal illegal aliens coming to kill people. And I'm looking at a fundraising pitch from Mimi Walters, a Republican congresswoman from California who says, we just learned that my socialist pro-tax opponent outraised us; we can't let the Democrat mob take over Congress.
Now, Democrats, on the other hand, have stuck to health care, which is the No. 1 issue for voters this year, except for they're refining it a little bit. They're now saying Republicans gave tax cuts to the rich, created a huge deficit, and to close that hole they are going to come and cut your Medicare and Social Security.
KELLY: Let me ask you the flipside of the closing argument question, which is, what's the biggest challenge for each party at this point? What's keeping Republicans up at night? What's keeping Democrats up at night as Election Day closes in?
LIASSON: Republicans are worried about the Midwest. This is the area of the country where Trump really won - Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. They thought those states would turn red. They thought Iowa and Ohio would no longer be swing states. They'd be solidly red. But they are really struggling in the Midwest. The next two weeks will tell us whether that's true. So they're worried about exciting their base in the industrial heartland.
Trump - and another problem for Republicans is that Trump kept telling his supporters there's a red wave, and his supporters believed him and got a little complacent. And we know that anger is the best motivator. And we don't know who's going to be angrier, white working-class voters, especially men - that's the Trump base - or college-educated white women, who are very angry.
But both sides are worried about history. Republicans know the party in the White House usually loses big when a president is under 50 percent. Democrats know that the groups of voters Republicans depend on tend to turn out more reliably in midterms. They're worried about motivating low-propensity voters like Hispanics and young people.
KELLY: All right, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson - thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.