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Why some ‘insider’ candidates are struggling to appeal to voters

August 31, 2015 at 6:45 PM EDT
Donald Trump is still dominating the polls, but how are the other top Republican candidates like Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker faring? Gwen Ifill looks at the week ahead in politics -- including another State Department email dump from Hillary Clinton -- with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.
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GWEN IFILL: Over the weekend, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates were out campaigning, dodging slings and arrows, and positioning themselves for the fall.

With Labor Day in sight, presidential candidates are surging and stumbling.

DONALD TRUMP Republican Presidential Candidate: I love Nashville.

GWEN IFILL: Republican Donald Trump, in Super Tuesday state Tennessee over the weekend, still leads in early state polls. But the biggest surge belongs to rival Ben Carson.

In a Des Moines Register Iowa poll, Trump attracts 23 percent of likely caucus goers, with Carson now just five points behind him. A new Monmouth poll, also of Iowa Republicans, today shows a Trump-Carson dead heat. As they surge, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker slows in Iowa, dropping from first place a few months ago, to third place now in one poll, fifth place in another.

On “Meet the Press” this weekend, he talked tough on immigration, suggesting new controls be placed on U.S. borders, north and south.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER Republican Presidential Candidate: Secure the border, enforce the laws, no amnesty,

GWEN IFILL: Jeb Bush, once the prohibitive favorite, is also struggling, as an increasing number of voters begin to view him unfavorably.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders’ surge is expanding. The Des Moines Register survey has him just seven points behind Hillary Clinton. Both appeared at the Democratic Party meeting in Minneapolis, with Sanders taking aim at establishment leaders.

By contrast, Clinton courted them, while focusing her attacks on the top Republican.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Democratic, Presidential Candidate: Trump actually says he would do a much better job for women than I would.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, many eyes remain on Vice President Joe Biden, who paid a surprise visit to a Democratic Party event Delaware this weekend, and announced plans to travel to Pittsburgh on Labor Day.

A perfect time to turn to Politics Monday, with Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Tamara, late today, late in the dark of night, apparently, Hillary Clinton — the State Department is going to release the latest tranche of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. This seems like — there’s the gift that keeps on giving. This is the drag that keeps on dragging.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Exactly. And 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, great time to start poring through thousands of pages of e-mails.

The State Department said that about 150 of them have been retroactively classified and they have been redacted, so there will be black marks on them. And that, of course, just adds to the swirl around Hillary Clinton. She’s not going to be testifying before the Benghazi committee until October 22 is the latest date, so this is going to just keep dragging and dragging and dragging.

Every month, there will be another tranche of e-mails.

GWEN IFILL: And if they were retroactively classified, that still is in keeping with her defense on this, which is that they were not classified at the time.

TAMARA KEITH: That’s correct. She continues to say that she never knowingly sent or received anything that was classified at the time, nothing was marked classified.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about this soaring Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has dropped 20 points in Iowa. That is not potatoes, small potatoes.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: No.

And, look, the Hillary Clinton people will tell, as I’m sure they have showed you time and time again, we always knew this race was going to tighten, this should be a competitive race, it always has been.

The really interesting thing though about the tightening of the race in Iowa and then New Hampshire as well with Bernie Sanders is that it’s not because voters in either place, Democratic voters, think that Hillary Clinton is less likable or that her negative ratings have gone up appreciably.

It’s that they see in Bernie Sanders somebody that I think they connect with emotionally, that they see as more authentic, genuine, somebody who is enthusiastic. He looks happy when he’s out there campaigning, sort of the happy warrior.

GWEN IFILL: The happy warrior.

AMY WALTER: Let’s put it that way.

She still doesn’t look as comfortable and as — like she’s having as much fun out there as he is.

GWEN IFILL: And yet we see her getting maybe expected endorsements from Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, kind of a key state, Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, kind of a key state.

She is not — a little soon to be counting her out, isn’t it?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, goodness gracious, she’s not actually losing in these polls yet. But as the pollster in Iowa Ann Selzer said, it’s starting to look like 2008 all over again. That’s not something Hillary Clinton’s campaign wants to hear.

But they’re not doing a major course correction. They’re starting to announce these big name-endorsements. But somebody who is a fan of Bernie Sanders isn’t going to say, oh, gosh, Jeanne Shaheen supports Hillary Clinton, maybe I should change my mind.
However, these big endorsements do point to things that Hillary Clinton has, which is, she has money. She has infrastructure. She has the top Democratic campaign staffers in the country. She has armies of volunteers who they are working. They have a system. They have an organization.

And they promise — her campaign promises this time around they know how to count delegates and they especially know how to count superdelegates like Jeanne Shaheen.

GWEN IFILL: Joe Biden, should she be more worried that he might run or that he might not run, Amy?

AMY WALTER: Gosh, that is the puzzle, isn’t it?

The theory of Joe Biden getting into the race, one theory, is that he will help to engage this race and engage her.

Right now, she is fighting against herself. It’s like boxing up against this e-mail server vs. against a real campaign, a real candidate. And they can go out and have debates. And the focus in the media will be about the two candidates, what they’re saying, what Bernie Sanders is saying, as opposed to the vacuum being filled with stories about Hillary Clinton’s problems.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the Republicans, the 17 of them, but actually just four or five of them, because, all of a sudden, Ben Carson is looking strong in Iowa. What’s happening there?

TAMARA KEITH: It’s a good question.

I think most likely what’s happening is that the evangelical voters, the voters who in the past voted for Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, they aren’t going for Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who are both running this time.

GWEN IFILL: Or Ted Cruz.

TAMARA KEITH: Or Ted Cruz.

GWEN IFILL: Yet.

TAMARA KEITH: Yet. They’re going for Ben Carson.

And he is — just like Donald Trump, he’s not a politician. He’s just a regular, really talented neurosurgeon who became a candidate for president because people told him he should run for president. He has ads running in Iowa. And right by the airport in Des Moines, at least last time I was there, there was this giant billboard. I don’t think his campaign actually put it up. But there was this giant billboard.

GWEN IFILL: And all around the state fair as well when I was there.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that Donald Trump has made it easier or harder for people who thought of themselves as outsiders in this race? He is the ultimate outsider. Right?
AMY WALTER: He’s the ultimate outsider. But Ben Carson is as well.
And Carly Fiorina can count herself as an outsider.

And none of them have any political experience. They haven’t been elected to anything. And if you add up in national polls and in these Iowa polls the percent that is going to a candidate with zero political experience, it is about 40 to 45 percent. You can argue at this point Republicans — 40 percent of the Republican base is looking for somebody who is not just an outsider, like, oh, I have been a governor or I haven’t been part of Washington for awhile, but really never been in public office.

GWEN IFILL: Never been in public office.

Let me ask you an interesting thing about the two insiders, perceived insiders, two former — one current governor, former governor, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush. Donald Trump is out there taking real shots at Jeb Bush and it seems to be working. What has happened to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who were seen to be strongest people in the race just a minute ago?

TAMARA KEITH: I think with Jeb Bush, there’s a certain element of not wanting to be told who the inevitable candidate is. And I think that there’s been resistance to that all along.

Jeb Bush has the money, he has the infrastructure, but he hasn’t gotten people excited. And Scott Walker initially that that bump, but then he hasn’t been getting people excited much lately either.

GWEN IFILL: And is perceived as having committed some unforced errors along the way.

AMY WALTER: Policy stumbles, as well as he was the committed conservative. He was the guy with the record in Wisconsin taking on labor unions, succeeding both in beating them back, as well as being reelected.

And since Trump’s success, what we have seen is, it looks like he’s just not as committed to his own position, that he’s moving away from some of the positions he took a year ago or two years ago. So, there’s a question about, where is his center, number one, and why is he moving away from the message that has helped him get this far?

GWEN IFILL: Does that leave room for anybody else who is in the race to get in, in that little split between Trump up here and, say, Bush and Walker kind of not doing so well?

AMY WALTER: I think Marco Rubio still fits in a very interesting position, because, if you look just on paper, he has the most room to grow in terms of people who say they like him vs. people who say they don’t.

And he still appeals to a very broad range of voters within the Republican primary. The problem is, nobody is really paying much attention to him.

GWEN IFILL: Oh, well, wait. Maybe we will all start to pay attention next week. We have a debate in a couple weeks.

GWEN IFILL: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: Thanks.

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