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Amy Walter and Shawna Thomas on 2018’s final primaries, Obama on the campaign trail

Amy Walter from The Cook Political Report and Shawna Thomas of Vice News join Lisa Desjardins discuss the last week of primary voting before the midterm elections, President Obama making his presence felt on the campaign trail, plus the tightening race between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week marks the last week of primary voting before the midterm elections.

    It comes on the heels of former President Obama making his presence felt on the campaign season.

    Lisa Desjardins is here for this week's Politics Monday.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    The early rounds are ending. It's a good time to get ready for the finals of this key midterm year and, of course, a very good time for Politics Monday.

    Here to bring us up to speed, Shawna Thomas, D.C. bureau chief of VICE News, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Thank you.

    Let's just jump right into where we are. We have New York gubernatorial primary on Tuesday — on Thursday. We have got tomorrow Delaware and New Hampshire, which is, strangely, the last primary in the nation, I guess they could say now.

    But let's go big. Why not?

    Amy, tell us, what are the themes and what are the expected real battle lines for November right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think the one theme that has been apparent throughout all these primaries in all different kinds of states and all different kinds of districts is the number of women who were successful as candidates on the Democratic side.

    My colleague looked into all the races for the House. And what he found is, of all the candidates in Democratic primaries — these are without incumbents, OK, so open seats — a woman who was running against at least one other man won 69 percent of the time. So women were winning a disproportionate number on the Democratic side.

    The number on the Republican side, much, much, much lower. But that is one key variable. And I think that's going to be obviously a very big talking point on election night, to see if we do hit and exceeded the mark set in 1992, which was the first year of the woman, when a record number of women were elected to Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Shawna, what do you see here? What are the two battle lines here? What are the two parties trying to sell? And where do they conflict in November?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Well, I mean, I think the key battle line and the other big theme, other than women, and maybe because of women, is President Trump.

    And there's no way to get around that. As many midterms are — they usually are about the person who is in the White House. This one is no different. And this one is even more powerfully so about the person in the White House.

    I think we saw examples of that — and I'm sure we will get to this — with President Obama, former President Obama being on the campaign trail…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We will, yes.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    … in Illinois, railing directly against President Trump, but also in California, striking a slightly different tone in California, but still making sure people know this is about flipping the House of Representatives for Democrats.

    And flipping the House of Representatives is a — in some ways a code of saying a way to put a check on the president.

  • Amy Walter:

    And the other main storyline too for these elections is just the difference in the maps for the House and for the Senate.

    The battle for the Senate runs through red, rural states that President Trump is still relatively popular, in some cases, still very popular in. The battle for the House runs through purple, suburban America, where the president is not very popular. So we could have an election night where Democrats actually do very well in the House, but struggle in the Senate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, it's interesting. So if this in part a test, at least in some places, of President Trump, but we have former President Obama out there, let's look at — first of all, let's listen to what he's been saying.

    This is from this weekend. Let's play the tape.

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    We have a chance to flip the House of Representatives and make sure that we are checks and balances in Washington.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    And I cannot tell you, all across the country, you can feel the energy. You can feel people saying, oh, enough is enough. We're going to kick off our bedroom slippers. We're putting on our marching shoes.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    We're going to out and we're going to start taking some clipboards out.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    And we're going to start knocking on some doors. And we're going to start making some calls. We're going to volunteer.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Kicking off the bedroom slippers, making some calls, whatever people do.

    Shawna, my question to you is, what does President Obama do for Democrats? What might he do for Republicans?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Well, I mean, just like President Trump, President Obama comes with his flaws and his positives.

    The positives are, when it's all said and done, the person who is the head of the Democratic Party still, despite the fact that he's not in the White House, is President Obama. Nobody who I ever talk to has had a better answer for the question of who is the head of the party.

    One of the things our correspondent on VICE News Tonight saw when he was out there in California was that people were driving miles and miles and hours and hours to be part of this event. And those were hard-core Democrats. That wasn't necessarily independents and other people, hard-core Democrats. But they're coming to see him.

    He is able to get that kind of rally and energy that President Trump to a certain extent can get on the other side. So that's a positive. Great.

    The other thing is, in some ways, he is also the example of what people were rallying against when they voted for President Trump. And so they will — and so, there, Republicans who will say, look, they're going back to Barack Obama. That is somebody you didn't like when he was in the White House. That is still the head of their party. Come out and vote for — vote for the people who support President Trump.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, is President Obama the head of the Democratic Party?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, though I probably — you probably remember this. I remember those speeches that he made saying those exact same things. You guys need to come out and vote. You need to do this for my legacy. Whatever you do — apathy is our biggest problem.

    He said that in 2010. He said that in 2014. He said that in 2016. Those voters still didn't turn out for Democrats. They turned out for him, but never his party.

    I still believe that the biggest motivator for Democrats is Donald Trump, and he's still the biggest — he's the 800-pound gorilla. He is the biggest factor in 2018. I do think, yes, Republicans are going to try to use Obama, but mostly use Nancy Pelosi as the boogey-person, right, to say, if you elect Democrats, they're just going to follow the same liberal marching orders from their leaders.

    But I think the bigger risk right now for Republicans is that Trump is taking all the oxygen and all of the focus that they would rather be spending, talking about the economy, deregulation and anything else that they're doing in Washington.

    They don't want Donald Trump to be making it all about him.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Quickly, I want to talk about the U.S. Senate and something that might be going on in Texas, home state of yours, Shawna.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to show some video of Beto O'Rourke, the El Paso congressman. He's lighting a fire for many progressive. He's doing things like skateboarding in parking lots. This is unconventional.

    This is something that the liberal left is loving, something that some people think might be a problem for Ted Cruz. There's a Marist poll showing he's within four points. What's going on in Texas? Does this man actually have a chance of becoming a Democratic senator from Texas?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Well, I have to admit I saw the Marist poll and also was like, oh, OK, OK. So maybe he has a chance.

    There is a possibility of a chance. In our reporting VICE News has done when it comes to Beto, he has gone to a lot of parts of the state that usually Democrats have ignored. He has made it his duty to go to every single county, with the idea of, like, if you know you can win Houston, Dallas, Austin, major cities, if you can pick up an extra 1,000 votes here way out west, if you can pick up 1,000 votes somewhere else, perhaps this is something that is actually possible.

    I'm still saying perhaps because I still think Texas is still a solidly red state. But…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK. OK.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think the bigger challenge for — that's right.

    I think the bigger challenge right now for Republicans in holding a seat is Tennessee, a deep red state where the candidate on the Democratic side is actually a little bit ahead of the Republican.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But the Senate is getting interesting.

    Thank you, Amy Walter, Shawna Thomas. Wonderful having you here for Politics Monday.

  • Amy Walter:

    Of course.

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