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Amy Walter and Tamara Keith on President Trump’s shifting campaign strategy

Amy Walter and Tamara Keith join Judy Woodruff to weigh in on President Trump’s shifting campaign strategy, voter enthusiasm, Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test release and what may lie ahead in 2020.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The midterm elections are less than a month away, and President Trump continues to hit the campaign trail.

    Here to lay out where things stand, we're joined by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the president has been out, it seems like every single day, out on the trail. He was in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Tam, and he's headed out this week as well.

    Is there a strategy here? What is the president hoping to do and is he doing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    He has this Western swing coming up, where he's going to Montana, Arizona and Nevada. And there's probably a different strategy behind each one of those stops. There are competitive Senate races in Arizona and Nevada and Montana.

    But Montana may just be — one source told be, he might just be getting back at Jon Tester for what he did to go after Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor who was up for VA secretary.

    The impression that I'm getting from a lot of people that I have been talking to who are sort of Republicans in Republican campaign committees is that a lot of the president's travel is based on what best serves the president, what the president wants to do, who he wants to promote.

    So he went to Kansas because the candidate for governor there is someone who he feels close to, he has a good relationship with, Kris Kobach. So each stop is different. But he's going to Elko, Nevada, which is rural part of the state, less population there, but also much more Republican.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, we have been talking about this. In the Senate races, the Republicans seem to be holding their own. Democrats have a better shot at House races.

    It seems contradictory. Talk a little bit about what is behind this.

  • Amy Walter:

    And explain what's going on.

    Yes. It's as if this election is taking place in two different countries. The race for the Senate is taking place — or at least for control of the Senate is taking place in really red parts of America.

    These are states that the president carried by more than 19 points in the 2016 election, so places like Montana or Missouri, North Dakota.

    The House is running through suburban America. And in suburban America, Trump is very unpopular. Some of these districts, he barely won. Some of them, he narrowly lost, but he is certainly very underwater in those suburban districts, much more so than the places where he's going on the campaign trail.

    So it's fascinating to watch where he's going, even when he goes to Pennsylvania. He went to Erie, Pennsylvania, which is the one county that slipped from Obama carrying it to Trump carrying it. And, notice, Pennsylvania isn't on a targeted list for Republicans this year.

    The Senate race looks not very competitive, Democratic senator up there, and the Democratic governor seems to be cruising right along as well. Instead, it's just the places where he's really deep red — that are really deep red that he can go to.

    Those places that determined the 2016 election, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, he's not spending as much time there. And Democrats are doing very well there, at least statewide Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, what's happened to this enthusiasm gap that we like to talk — or enthusiasm, whether it's a gap or not? What's happened with that?

    At one point, the Democrats were ahead. The Republicans caught up a little bit. What are we looking at now? How much of a difference is it making?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's really unclear right now whether this was a shift that was related to Kavanaugh, whether it is an enduring shift, or whether it is a shift that was going to happen as the election got closer, people started paying more attention and Republicans came home.

    And I think that it's really hard right now to know exactly what it is.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, but it is — I think that's right.

    When I talk to Republicans, they just consistently tell me they just feel a lot better in these districts that are sort of congenitally red, right? That's where they didn't see the energy behind their Republican base a couple weeks ago. Now they're starting to see it come home.

    Now, is it Kavanaugh? Is it just because Republicans, they know that Election Day is around the corner? The real challenge for Republicans right now, though, is that the Democratic enthusiasm hasn't weighed — waned. Excuse me.

  • Tamara Keith:

    For like two years.

  • Amy Walter:

    Forever, right. They're as intense today as they were back in…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're just as determined.

  • Amy Walter:

    They're just as determined.

    And spending a lot of time looking too at where independent voters are going. And, right now, Trump is somewhere around 40 percent approval rating among independents. You look at some of the most recent polls that came out today or this week.

    The president — or the president still not doing well with independents. And then you ask the question about, who do you want to vote for, for Congress, independents breaking for Democrats by double digits. That's where it gets very dangerous.

    One Republican said to me, we can equal turnout with Democrats, but if we're losing independents by double digits, we're still in deep doo-doo.

    And that's the challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and we have also been talking about whether there was a gender piece to this story. And that's something we have addressed in the past.

    But, Tam, today, there was this back and forth between Elizabeth Warren, who — for whom it was released — her DNA test results were made public. It turns out she does have some Native American blood going back six to 10 generations.

    The president who, of course, had challenged her to do this, to make a long story short, had said he would donate a million dollars. Now he's saying he wouldn't do it unless he did it.

    Does this take…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How long — it's going to take me 10 minutes, an hour just to explain it.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But does this go anywhere? Does it — are women voters paying attention to this? It's a little early for 2020, isn't it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's a little early for 2020.

    But if you watch the video that Elizabeth Warren put out to go along with these test results, there is no denying that that is a very slick campaign video introducing herself to America, or reintroducing herself to America.

    One thing about Elizabeth Warren and President Trump, this is a rivalry that goes back a very long way. On the 2016 campaign trail, when Elizabeth Warren was campaigning for Hillary Clinton, she had a unique ability to sort of troll candidate Trump, to get him to say things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She got under his skin.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    She got under his skin.

    And then along comes his term that he keeps using for Elizabeth Warren, this Pocahontas term, which many people find wildly offensive. But, in the end, President Trump picks these feuds and fights with all of these people. And, somehow, the people he feuds with end up being the ones that are sullied, and he just keeps going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just 20 seconds, Amy.

    I guess it's never too early to talk about 2020.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, there are a lot of Democrats, some of whom I talked to today, who would like Democrats not to talk about 2020 yet.

    They said, we're doing really well, we have got our sights on 2018, national Democrats, don't start making this about you. Keep the focus on 2018, on the issues we want to talk about, not the challenger to President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see if anybody is paying attention to those admonitions.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, we will see.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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