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What effects the Jan. 6 hearings could have on the midterm elections

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The congressional committee investigating the January 6 coup attempt on the Capitol wrapped up its hearings this week. Toward the end, the committee voted to subpoena former President Trump to testify. Here's Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and vice chair of the committee.

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LIZ CHENEY: The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us that the central cause of January 6 was one man, Donald Trump, whom many others followed. None of this would have happened without him.

MARTIN: But we also wondered what effect, if any, the hearings are having on the midterms. To help answer that, let's bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Michel.

MARTIN: So the January 6 committee certainly made a lot of news. There were lots of former Trump administration officials testifying about what was going on behind the scenes that day, what the former president was doing and what he was not doing. But, Domenico, do we have a sense if any of it has made a difference with voters?

MONTANARO: Well, you really have to think about who's watching these hearings. You know, our polling has found that it's Democrats who are mostly paying the closest attention. And we had seen over the summer, with the deluge of evidence from the hearings, that Trump's grip on the Republican Party did appear to be loosening some. But after that FBI search at Trump's Florida home, Republicans snapped back to Trump's corner, and overall, this just isn't the top issue in these campaigns. Inflation is the dominant concern. Democrats have successfully used abortion rights as a way to fire up their base. So that's what, really, these campaigns are focused on.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the midterm elections more broadly. This week also saw two high-profile debates. So let's start in Wisconsin. Their incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson is up for reelection. He's being challenged by the current lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes. The race is very contentious, and it played on the debate stage. What happened?

MONTANARO: Yeah. It's gotten pretty ugly. When the candidates were asked to say something nice about each other toward the end of the debate, Barnes said he respected that Johnson is a family man. But Johnson, he just couldn't help himself.

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RON JOHNSON: I appreciate the fact that Lieutenant Governor Barnes had loving parents, a schoolteacher, father worked third shift, so he had, you know, good upbringing. I guess what puzzles me about that is with that upbringing, why is he turned against America? I mean, why does he find America awful?

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Somehow...

MONTANARO: So you can hear there that drew some boos. And, you know, even Trump - I was struck by this - you know, was able to say something nice about Hillary Clinton in a 2016 debate. He said she's a fighter who doesn't quit. You know, this has been a real problem for Johnson. He's just not well liked throughout the state. That's made him pretty vulnerable. But this is one that's expected to be close because of Wisconsin's most - you know, it's one of the most sharply divided, politically, states in the country.

MARTIN: So another contentious race, Georgia - we talked about that briefly just a few minutes ago. Incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock facing off against Republican nominee, the challenger, Georgia football star Herschel Walker - tell us a little bit more about Friday night's debate.

MONTANARO: Yeah. Obviously abortion is the big issue here because it was the controversy coming in about an allegation that Walker paid an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion. During the debate, he again said she's lying. But the divide between Walker and Warnock on abortion was pretty clear. Warnock has said before that a patient's room is too small for a woman, her doctor and the government. Let's listen to part of their exchange.

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RAPHAEL WARNOCK: The women of Georgia deserves a senator who will stand with them. I trust women more than I trust politicians.

HERSCHEL WALKER: May I respond?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Very quickly, Mr. Walker.

WALKER: You know, it is - and I heard about him. I heard he was a neat talker. But did he not mention that there's a baby in that room as well?

MONTANARO: You know, this debate was a big moment for Walker. Overall, Republicans say they think that Walker did a good-enough job tying Warnock to Biden and his Democratic policies, which is what they think gives him the best chance to win in this state where Biden's pretty unpopular now.

MARTIN: That's NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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