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How The Presidential Contest Is Affecting Illinois' Senate Race

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The presidential race affects other races this fall. Enthusiasm or dismay about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will influence who shows up to vote for the Senate as well, which matters to candidates like Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who we reached as she campaigned in Illinois.

Where are you, just so that I know?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I am stuck in terrible traffic going into Chicago.

INSKEEP: That's a big center of votes for the Democrat as she challenges Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Illinois is a blue state, but it has many red areas that matter a lot.

DUCKWORTH: Well, the state is 102 counties, and six of them are Democratic, 96 are either purple counties or red counties. You can't win the entire state by ignoring the red counties. You have to do fairly well in them as well.

INSKEEP: There's definitely a feeling that the presidential race has shifted in the last several days, since the revelation of the video showing Donald Trump from 2005, since the second presidential debate. Do you feel that your Senate race is any different than it was?

DUCKWORTH: I think there's less attention on the Senate race. But the issues are still the same. People here still feel like they hear that the recession is over, but they don't see it in their hometowns or in - you know, they're still worried about their jobs. They're still worried about, how am I going to pay for my kid's college?

If anything, there's a sense of, why are you not talking about these issues? Because this is what affects my life. This is - you know, I'm trying to plan for retirement. I'm 55-years-old and the company I work for, it just shut down the plant.

INSKEEP: If Secretary Clinton goes up a couple points in national polls, do you say to yourself that's good for me, good for my campaign?

DUCKWORTH: Well, it's always good for me and good for my campaign to have the top of the ticket of my party doing well. But she's already leading by 19 points in Illinois. So another couple of points, while good, won't make a great big deal of difference.

What we really need here is to have more of a conversation on, you know, programs like I support, trying to allow students to refinance student loan debt, for example.

INSKEEP: Now, that's an interesting thing to raise, the student loan debt because one big question this election is whether younger voters show up. They seem to be leaning Democratic, but whether they turn up or not is the big question.

DUCKWORTH: That's true. And some of it is actually logistical. I was at University of Illinois in Champaign talking to the Young Democrats and saying, well, what do we need to do to turn out voters? And they said, well, you know, 90 percent of the college students in Champaign actually voted for Bernie. And - but the problem was the lines at the polling station were three hours long and they had to go to classes and there was just one polling station. And so they said that what we need is actually more vote-by-mail. But please, when you get us those ballots, make sure that there's a postage-paid envelope with them because we don't know where to buy stamps (laughter).

INSKEEP: Because people just don't do that. OK, that makes sense. One other question I want to ask about. We had the writer-journalist David Maraniss on the program this week. And he used the word disillusion. He spoke of the disillusion of the American electorate, of things falling apart. As you travel around your state, do you feel that there is something about our country or about our politics that are falling apart?

DUCKWORTH: I think there is perhaps a perception that's being sold to the American public about that. But I see actually people becoming more energized. When I talk to them about this election is one that will affect the future for several generations when it comes to the Supreme Court, people respond and they say, oh, my gosh, you know, you're right. And people wake up to that and realize that they have to do something. So I actually have phone bankers and people who are getting very active and door-knocking for me much more so than I've ever had in a campaign before.

INSKEEP: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, running for U.S. Senate, thanks very much.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.