MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Unless you have already voted early, tomorrow is the big day to head to your polling station and have your say after months of hearing from the candidates. Each party is selling a different version of the future through their respective political ads. So we're going to take a moment now to talk ads with NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hey there.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
KELLY: Glad to have you with us. Start with the Republicans. You've been watching all their ads. What do they tell us about the case that Republicans are making to voters?
MONTANARO: Well, the fact of the matter is Republicans really wanted to start this election talking about local issues. Jobs and the economy have been very good. They were hoping the president, frankly, would push that. Instead, that's not so much what they're closing on. They're closing on this.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "COREY STEWART FOR GOVERNOR - TV AD")
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Stewart cracked down on illegals, as governor, will ban sanctuary cities and...
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "SO CONSERVATIVE")
BRIAN KEMP: I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and...
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "LOU BARLETTA LAUNCHES 'RALLY' AD")
LOU BARLETTA: We want to secure our borders. We want to put an end to illegal immigration once and for all.
MONTANARO: So Republicans really at the outset had this kind of internal conflict, whether or not they were going to separate themselves from President Trump, whether they were going to tie themselves to him. And, you know...
KELLY: They've gone for the latter, it sounds like from those ads.
MONTANARO: Absolutely. This president has talked over and over again about immigration and the fear that comes with immigrants coming into the country illegally for his base, which was a foundational thing. And they were really nervous that the Republican base would stay home. And this they're hoping fires them up and gets them to the polls.
KELLY: Unusual for a president in a midterm election year to have so much sway over what candidates are putting in their political messaging?
MONTANARO: Presidents historically have a problem in their first midterm where their parties wind up losing a lot of seats. So most of the time, people try to distance themselves from the president or the - if - especially if the president's unpopular, and this president right now is historically unpopular. But it doesn't matter. He is going to be - whether or not he's the anchor around Republicans' ankles or he's the plane that carries them across the finish line.
KELLY: (Laughter) Trying to keep up with the metaphors here (laughter).
MONTANARO: Me too.
KELLY: Join me to a Democratic metaphor here. They do not see immigration as the key to turning out their base. What are Democratic ads focused on?
MONTANARO: Not at all. Democrats have been laser-like focused on health care. And they've started from the very beginning of this campaign saying that they were going to run on health care, and that's exactly what they've run on.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "HEIDI HEITKAMP: 'DENISE'")
DENISE SANDVICK: Mr. Cramer, I don't know why you voted to let insurance companies go back to denying coverage for preexisting conditions. But I know Heidi would never do that.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "DEAD WRONG")
JOE MANCHIN: Now the threat is Patrick Morrisey's lawsuit to take away health care.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "WRECKING BALL - LIZZIE PANNILL FLETCHER FOR CONGRESS")
LIZZIE PANNILL FLETCHER: We all know our health care system is broken. And Congress could help fix it. But John Culberson is taking a wrecking ball to it.
MONTANARO: What's fascinating there is the two Democrats that you hear in that ad - Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia - very conservative states, and they are running on health care as well. It's a huge turn because in 2010, Republicans were able to use Obamacare as a way to take back the House. This time around, especially when it comes to protecting preexisting conditions, Democrats are running on health care. And Republicans say it's effective and has put a lot of their candidates on their back foot.
KELLY: Anything that strikes you that's not being talked about in the political messaging?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, you know, when you have an economy that's as strong as it is, and you have a president who's going around instead of talking about the details of the economy and how that economy is benefiting regular people and trying to reach out to independents - instead at his rallies, he acknowledges it briefly and then moves on to really rev up the base with immigration.
KELLY: Has that shifted a little bit in the closing days of the campaign, though? The president at numerous rallies this weekend was saying, look at the numbers from Friday. They're great.
MONTANARO: Sure. He says, look at the numbers, look at the numbers. They're great. They're great. But it's not the kind of salient issue that drives out his base. And he's nervous about it. Frankly, he admitted that talking about the economy for him is boring. So he doesn't want to have to do it.
KELLY: Are the ads keeping up with the candidates? By which I mean, there's this lag time to put together a highly polished, produced ad. And in this environment where, with one tweet, the whole thing can change on a dime, are you hearing the same messaging on TV, on the radio and broadcasts as you're hearing from the candidates who are out stumping?
MONTANARO: Well, what Republicans tell me is that this election has been about, quote, "volatility," that no single issue has really broken through in a way that can help them. Tax cuts was the thing that Republicans were supposed to try to run on. Instead, now polling shows tax cuts as something that benefits Democrats.
MONTANARO: And Republicans have seen that as a major problem. At the same time, Democrats see President Trump as the floor in this election. In other words, sort of...
KELLY: What does that mean?
MONTANARO: ...Sort of the foundation for the House to be built on. They don't need to talk about President Trump because President Trump is already what's driven out a record number of candidates, especially women candidates, to run in 2018. And they know that if they can build, you know, the Sheetrock in the House with health care and increased wages and saying that the tax cuts are a, quote, "scam" to take away your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that that can win over persuadable voters.
KELLY: And with one day to go, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, thank you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.