How the Clinton email probe seems to be motivating voters

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with that, we turn to Politics Monday.

Joining me are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and from The New York Times, Yamiche Alcindor. Tamara Keith is away.

Eight days to go. Welcome to both of you.

So, Amy — thumbs up.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: We're so close.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where does this race stand, and how much effect is this FBI news having?

AMY WALTER: It seems like the race stands at a place where it's always wanted to go, which is basically somewhere between a two- and a four-point Clinton lead.

Even before the FBI — the notes of the FBI investigation came out, we already started to see a tightening of the race, that Hillary Clinton's big, big lead, in some cases, it was double digits, was narrowing down, in part because — and this has been a theme we have seen this entire campaign, Judy — whenever the focus is on one candidate, the other candidate benefits.

For most of October, the focus was on Donald Trump and all of his problems, whether that was debates or his other troubles. For the last week, even before the FBI story, it was about the Clinton Foundation. It was about Obamacare rates increasing.

And so what we're starting to see is that Republicans started to come home. The focus was on her negative traits. So I think that this race still is a Hillary Clinton lead, smaller, and it now comes down to discussing the battleground states, where she continues to have an advantage. He may — this may have stopped his fall in some of these states, but I don't think that it's enough to push him over the top.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Yamiche, you have been watching these candidates on the trail. I know you were in North Carolina over the weekend. And I'm going to ask you about that in a moment.

But when you look at what the candidates are saying on the trail, do they look like they have changed their approach in some way?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, The New York Times: I think that Hillary Clinton has changed her approach a bit, because she was really talking a lot about Donald Trump and all his problems, talking a lot about his sexual assault allegations, and this idea of him being unqualified, and really doubling down on the idea that she has the experience.

Now we're seeing that she's also kind of talking a little bit about the FBI and talking a little bit about whether or not there is any partisanship or what's going on with the fact that this announcement was made so late in the game.

So I think she's done a little bit of shifting. And I think that, when I talk to a lot of her supporters, they're kind of wanting her to go back to hitting Trump full-time.

But Donald Trump, on the other hand, has really, I think, doubled down this idea that she's corrupt. Regardless of whether or not the FBI made this announcement on Friday, he would have continued to say she is someone who almost like a Watergate, she has all these issues around her.

He was doubling down on the idea of the Clinton Foundation being corrupt, on this idea that she belongs in jail, and that she really should not have been allowed to run. So, even though this FBI e-mail — he's kind of in some ways seizing on the opportunity to talk about her e-mails through the FBI, he would have been talking about these e-mails regardless.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, you were telling us that, with regard to the e-mails, there are still real questions out there that have to be answered.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

I mean, part of the reason that we don't know what impact it's going to have is that we really don't know what's in there. And we're only now starting to get a sense for whether we're going to get an actual investigation into them, that the — the search warrant has actually been given. So we're going to actually see some digging into these e-mails.

But you hear reporting everything from we could find something out maybe before the election is over about whether there is anything substantive in there to maybe it's going to be weeks and weeks from now.

Obviously, the more attention on a drip, drip, drip coming out of this, not good for Hillary Clinton. Yamiche is right. This is — the Clinton campaign wants this to be ultimately a referendum on Donald Trump, not on e-mails.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meantime, Yamiche, as we just said, you were in North Carolina talking to voters. Do you get the sense that they are changing, that it's affecting how they think about this race at this point?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It's not affecting who people are choosing.

When I was out in North Carolina, I went to the city of Charlotte, and I also went to some suburbs surrounding the city. And people told me that they were still going to go with the person that they were going for. So, when I talked to Trump supporters, they were still very much Trump supporters. When I talked to Clinton supporters, they were very much still in her camp.

But this really motivated people to leave their houses. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, at about 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and there were people lined waiting two hours already to get into the polls.

So, I talked to a young man who said: "I saw the news of the FBI e-mails flash on my work computer on Friday and I said, I'm waking up at 8:00 to come to the polls and I want to vote early."

So, I think that that is what has been going on here. It's not so much changing people's ideas as much as it is about this idea that both people — both sets of supporters think that the other supporters are going to be motivated by this news and, thus, they want to show out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting.

And, Amy, you were also talking to us about the so-called down-ballot races, the Senate races in particular that may be affected by this.

AMY WALTER: This was the biggest concern from Republicans about a week-and-a-half ago was that Republicans were just so enthusiastic, were so depressed by how poorly Donald Trump had done in the debates, and that they just were not going to show up and vote.

This may be something that help gets them out to vote, is what they're hoping right now, again, motivated, oh, that's right, this is what don't like about Hillary Clinton, it's why we have to come out and vote, and also maybe bolsters the argument that a lot of down-ballot candidates are making that they need to be a check on Hillary Clinton.

Maybe you still think Hillary Clinton is going to win the presidency, but don't you want to have a Republican in office, given what we know about Hillary Clinton?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yamiche, what are you hearing? What do you see in your reporting about these Senate races that are still really close?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: What I'm hearing from voters — and I have heard a little bit about from Republicans who don't want to vote for Donald Trump, because they don't see him as qualified, but then who then are going to split their ticket and go and vote for Republicans to go down-ballot.

The interesting thing, though, is that a lot of people for the last eight years have watched Barack Obama — or — excuse me — maybe for the last four years — have watched Barack Obama really struggle with this idea that he couldn't get a lot of things passed because of the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate.

So, when I talk to people who say, I don't want another four years of that, I don't want another Hillary Clinton to have to face the same issues that Barack Obama faced, so even though there's this idea that they want to have a check on Hillary Clinton, a lot of people say, I actually want her to be able to go in there and get things done.

So, that's, I think, why a lot of Democrats are coming out and talking to me about this idea of voting down-ballot and then the importance of local races. Of course, Republicans are happy to split their ticket because they don't want to see Hillary Clinton enact some of the things that she has been talking about.

Really, one of the most important things is immigration reform. She said in her first 100 days that she's going to dealing with that issue. And a lot of Republicans are really worried that she might kind of have this idea of open borders and really not be as tough as they want her to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The clock is ticking. It's closer than ever, eight days away.

Amy Walter, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

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