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News Brief: It's Election Day, Cameroon Children Kidnapped


It's Election Day. Republicans and Democrats have made their final case to voters now. For many of you, time to hit the polls.


And it goes almost without saying - but I'm going to say it anyway - the stakes are high for both parties as Republicans look to hold on to their House and Senate majorities and the Democrats make the case that they are a necessary check on President Trump's agenda.

GREENE: And let's talk this through with NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Good morning, Domenico.


GREENE: So I know - I mean, the stakes are high in any election, but this midterm still seems like it's an important one.

MONTANARO: Well, it's the culmination of a long midterm campaign that's, you know, really going to provide the first nationwide measure of the American electorate since Donald Trump was elected president. And that is a big deal because we've seen, you know, a record number of candidates running and many of them spurred by this president.

I'm going to be watching turnout pretty closely tonight because it's expected to be among the highest for a midterm in a very long time, maybe 50 years.


MONTANARO: People have very intense feelings toward this president. He's among the most strongly disliked in history and also among - has among the most ardent supporters. So which of those two dominate tonight and come out are really going to dictate how this election goes. Of course, the landscape here - Democrats need to take 23 seats to take control of the House. The Senate's a very different story, with Republicans expected to hold the Senate, maybe pick up a seat or two, but those are very red states, where Democrats are defending seats. And really, the House is the ballgame. And I asked one Republican strategist yesterday what he thinks his chances of Republicans holding the House are, and he said, not great.

GREENE: Oh, wow. OK. So even many Republicans are sort of thinking that they might not be able to hold on to the House at all but hoping for the best in the Senate, I guess. And there are also a lot of governorships at stake, too. Right? And President Trump has been focusing on some of those races. Obviously, whoever is governor is important to a state. But do those races have national implications as well?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I think they do. You know, these races tend to be overlooked, but Republicans control two-thirds of governorships across the country. And that's expected to change tonight. Democrats might pick up anywhere from half a dozen to maybe a little fewer than a dozen seats across the country. And Democrats hope to roll back what would be, really - or were a decade of Republican gains in the states from governorships down to those state legislative races, which are really important because they control - you know, whoever controls those controls redistricting after the new census is conducted in two years.

I find it fascinating, also, by the way - for all the talk of dysfunction in Washington, two of the most popular governors who are expected to win re-election tonight are Republicans in liberal states - in Maryland and Massachusetts. And Democrats, by the way, have real chances to win governorships in conservative states like Kansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

GREENE: Which is interesting. Well, I mean, if - for those of us who are politically obsessed and are going to be looking for any early indications of where the night is going as soon as we can possibly get any hint, what are you going to be looking for as kind of the day starts to get to an end and we start seeing some of those early results come in?

MONTANARO: Well, you have a lot of early states that could be key tonight. I look at Virginia in that 7 o'clock hour and New Jersey in the 8 o'clock hour. You've got a lot of House races that are going to really tell you where the country stands at this point and if that House is going to move toward Democrats. You really will be able to probably tell based on a couple of those seats that we've identified.

GREENE: We'll probably be able to tell how close things are depending on when you're able to go to bed, if at all - right, Domenico?


MONTANARO: Well, I would expect we're not going to have a House call at least until 11 o'clock because you've got about a half a dozen races in California that are expected to be very, very close.

GREENE: OK. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks, Domenico. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

MARTIN: All right - so Domenico there giving us the big picture. We're going to get closer to the ground now.

GREENE: That's right, with NPR's Don Gonyea.

Don, you've been bouncing around everywhere these past weeks and months. Where are you spending Election Day? Where are you now?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Today, Pennsylvania. Right now I'm in York, but I'll be moving around as the day plays out.

GREENE: York, I love that area - near Lancaster, where I went to high school and spent a lot of my childhood.

GONYEA: Yes, indeed. Indeed. I'll tell them you said hi.

GREENE: Good part of the country (laughter). Please tell everyone I said hi.

GONYEA: (Laughter).

GREENE: So who have you been talking to?

GONYEA: So a lot of voters - I've been talking to Democrats; I've been talking to Republicans; I've been talking to people who show up at get-out-the-vote rallies and all of that. And you guys keep saying the stakes are so high. I mean, that is the very first thing that people tell you, especially Democrats. The Democrats are worried about the state of America under President Trump. And look - they will talk about the issues in a minute; they're happy to. Health care is certainly one that comes up a lot and pre-existing conditions.

But the driving force for so many of them is sending a message regarding the president. They want to begin to correct what happened in 2016. And I've been asking people, David, about their hopes for today but about their fears. And I want to introduce you to Elly McNelis. She's 72, a school crossing guard in Bucks County. She was at an event there yesterday, and she says that she hopes the Democrats win the House, maybe even the Senate. But here's what she fears.

ELLY MCNELIS: What I fear if we lose the House and if we lose the Senate - God forbid that - but we will continue to see more of the hatred, the anger, the volatility that's become around, anger of people that don't like you because you don't agree with 45.

GONYEA: She said she doesn't even want to say his name. Forty-five...


GONYEA: ...Of course, is President Trump. Yeah.

GREENE: So I mean, we knew that Democrats were energized, hearing voices like that, I mean, for a long period of time. But in the last month or so, polls have suggested that Republicans are getting just as energized and feeling like there's that same level of importance on this Election Day. Are you hearing that from Republicans?

GONYEA: Here's the interesting thing. You do see energy, especially if you go to campaign events or if you go to one of those big Donald Trump rallies. But generally speaking, the Trump supporters are pretty happy with the way things are going. They feel aggrieved because they think he is unfairly attacked. But they like the policy and the results they're seeing, even if they will often tell you they aren't big fans of the president's rhetoric. This right here is 64-year-old Rudy Esquivel. I met him outside Charlotte, N.C., in his home.

RUDY ESQUIVEL: To me, there's about five issues - jobs, jobs, jobs and then there is a strong foreign policy, which we have, and basically this crackdown down on who comes here. I think it should be merit-based.

GONYEA: And again, he is Cuban-American. He came here as a child. He was 5 years old when he came to this country. And he supports the president's tough immigration policies. But he also said - hey, I've already won. I've got two conservative Supreme Court justices in hand. If there's gridlock or a stalemate the rest of the way, I could live with that.

GREENE: And Don, both President Trump and also former President Obama have been on this blitz of rallies in recent days in battleground states. Are you getting the sense that those rallies have had impact on voters?

GONYEA: Well, people certainly come out of those rallies fired up. And you get the sense that the people who take the trouble to go to those rallies are indeed going to vote. The question is how that urgency and how that message trickles through to the rest of the public. And you know, the early voting numbers were really high. We just have to wait and see what happens today.

GREENE: NPR's Don Gonyea in York, Pa., on this Election Day.

Don, thanks a lot.

GONYEA: My pleasure.


GREENE: All right. Now we're gonna turn to the nation of Cameroon, where armed men kidnapped scores of students from a boarding school in the northwest of the country at dawn yesterday.

MARTIN: All right, the mass kidnapping happened in this region where English-speaking separatists are trying to break away from the dominant French-speaking government of Cameroon. The authorities are blaming the secessionists for the abductions.

GREENE: And let's turn to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who has been monitoring these developments.

Hi, Ofeibea.


GREENE: What is the latest here? Dozens of kids kidnapped from a boarding school - this sounds tragic.

QUIST-ARCTON: Seventy-nine children and three staff members - yep, this is what we're being told. Now, although the government is blaming these secessionists and - it's a bit complicated. Cameroon is English-speaking and French-speaking. It's bilingual. It was also colonized by the Germans, so it's quite a complicated country. But the English speakers feel that their region has been marginalized by the dominant French-speaking government of President Paul Biya, who incidentally is going to be sworn in today for his seventh term in office.

Now, they say that it's the armed separatists who are causing the problems. But the English speakers say no, you're trying to impose French on us in our justice system, in our schools. We won't have it. What started off, though, as protests two years ago became an armed battle against the government last year when these Ambazonians, as they call themselves, who want this independent state took up arms. And they have imposed curfews. And they've also - calling for a school boycott, which many of the English speakers actually don't want because it means their kids don't get educated.

GREENE: So what is the theory here, Ofeibea, that these separatists have actually carried out this kidnapping as a method of intimidation? Or how might this connect to the larger conflict we're talking about?

QUIST-ARCTON: Although the separatists are denying it, a video came out yesterday. And some of the boys, who seem to be under pressure, were told to identify themselves, identify their school and identify their parents. A Presbyterian Christian School in Bamenda, which is the epicenter of these problems - now, they're saying the government must come to the negotiating table. And it looks like if, indeed, they are the ones who committed - who carried out this mass abduction, it's more of a sort of bargaining tool, leverage, if there are negotiations. At the moment, though, the government is saying - no, you are armed terrorists. We are not negotiating with you.

GREENE: Do we know anything about the condition of these 79 students at this point?

QUIST-ARCTON: We don't. The government says it is combing the area. There have been clashes in the area between the separatists and the soldiers. So it's a big question mark. But many, many Cameroonians - French speakers, English speakers - are worried because this is the first such abduction of schoolchildren, although there has been this school boycott that the separatists want to impose - big question marks and lots of concern about how this is going to end up.

GREENE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us from Dakar about the situation in Cameroon.

Ofeibea, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILANTHROPE'S "REBIRTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.