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Congressional Democrats on the party’s outlook in their battleground states

Donald Trump won the White House in 2016 by taking several key swing states that former President Barack Obama had won in 2008 and 2012, including Michigan, Ohio and Florida. Each of these is expected to be a battleground again this year. Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Val Demings of Florida join Judy Woodruff to discuss their states’ political landscapes.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Donald Trump won the White House in 2016 by taking several key swing states that former President Barack Obama won in 2008 and again in 2012, among them, Michigan, Ohio and Florida.

    And each of these states is expected to be a political battleground in this presidential race.

    Three Democratic members of Congress are here with us now to tell us what the landscape looks like for the Biden/Harris ticket.

    They are Representatives Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Val Demings of Florida.

    And we thank you, each one of you, so much for joining us. It's really good to see you.

    Congresswoman Dingell, I'm going to start with you.

    You were called Debbie downer back in 2016, because you were one of the few members of Congress, I think one of the few people, period, who were raising alarm bells and who were saying, wait, Donald Trump could win my state of Michigan. And he did by 10,000 votes.

    Could — how do you contrast where Joe Biden is today with where Hillary Clinton was in 2016 in Michigan?

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.:

    So, now Rashida Tlaib says I'm not to call myself Debbie downer anymore. It's Debbie the realist.

    And the fact of the matter is, Michigan is still a competitive state. I think Joe Biden is much better positioned than Hillary was four years ago, because he is listening to working men and women. But we have to make sure that our votes turn out.

    I think that there are a third of the voters that voted for Donald Trump that are going to vote for him again. The voters that voted for Hillary are going to vote for Joe Biden, and we have got a group in between who are not happy about how COVID has been handled, but they have got a lot of questions.

    I'm watching Trump signs come out. I feel better probably than I did four years ago, when I kept saying to people, I'm worried. But every second is going to matter between now and Election Day, with nothing taken for granted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You feel better, probably. I caught the probably.

    Congressman Tim Ryan, you represent Akron, Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley. It went Democratic last time, but the entire state of Ohio did not. It went for Donald Trump by 450,000 votes.

    What are the prospects for this November?

  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio:

    Well, it's trending in the right direction.

    I feel like the scenarios that we were dealing with in '16 aren't here. People now know Donald Trump. It wasn't just a flashy campaign that he ran. Now he's got a history, the COVID-19 situation, which everybody knows about here, and many Ohioans, like many Michigans, have a family down in Florida.

    And we saw how Trump — the Trump style of leading through the COVID-19 affected so many Ohioans that now live in Florida. So, families here are affected. Trump lost 4,000 jobs at a local General Motors plant. We couldn't even get his attention. The head of the union sent two letters to him. He never responded. I tried to contact him, Sherrod Brown, others.

    Didn't lift a finger. And then, when we lost all 4,000 jobs, he blamed the head of the union.

    And then, just today, Judy, he came out saying the American people should boycott Goodyear, which is 3,000 jobs, world headquarters in Akron. The president of the United States, in the middle of a recession and a pandemic, is telling the American people to boycott Goodyear. It's insane.

    So, all of this is adding up to trending to Biden. He's been up in the last two or three polls, and I think that's going to continue. We have got a lot of work on the ground. They're Zooming or however we're doing this, but I think Joe Biden is going to win Ohio, no doubt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Representative Val Demings, what about Florida? I mean, Hillary Clinton was counting on Florida the last time, but she missed by about, what, 2 percentage points, 113,000 votes.

    What does it look like for Joe Biden this time?

  • Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.:

    It's great to be with you. It's great to see my colleagues. When I think about Michigan, Ohio and Florida, I mean, we could decide the election right here.

    Look, we were extremely disappointed in 2016. We know just about every poll had Hillary Clinton up. But we know the result (AUDIO GAP) like 1 percentage point.

    But we're prepared this year. We're working hard. We have more — the Florida Democratic Party has more workers on the ground than ever before, about twice the number that we had in 2016. We know that Vice President Biden is up by five or six points.

    But we're not taking anything for granted. We know that polls are a snapshot in time. And so we are working hard, like he's five or six points behind.

    I really do believe that Florida is in play. All of the momentum right now is certainly with this ticket, Vice President Biden and Senator Harris. But, as I said, we are taking nothing for granted until the last votes are counted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I heard each one of you say, we're taking nothing for granted. There must be — there's a theme here.

    Congresswoman Dingell, one of the centerpieces of the Trump presidency has been the China bashing, the tough posture on trade, on trade agreements. How is all that playing right now in Michigan?

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell:

    Well, you know, I think it's complicated.

    First of all, I do think that we have legitimate issues with China, but it's very difficult. The president — trade was the big issue. Let's be blunt. In 2016, I think President Trump won Michigan based on trade.

    But I don't believe that a lot of people in Michigan think that he has actually delivered on trade. We did improve NAFTA, but only because of what Democrats did, and there are still a number of problems with it. People don't trust China. They see their jobs being shipped overseas.

    I think one thing COVID has done is, people suddenly understand supply chains and what we're talking about when we say our jobs have been shipped overseas. When you look at our dependency for PPE equipment and on medicine from China, people are very concerned.

    And, quite frankly, the president was not clear at all on China on either of those two subjects. So, a lot of distrust about China among union voters, working men and women, and not any kind of clear policy on behalf of the president about what he really does stand for on any given day, any given hour.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Ryan, staying with the economy, we know this is one of the few issues right now where the president is actually doing better than Joe Biden.

    The president says, he says: I have produced the best economy in the world in history, until the pandemic hit. And he says he's the one who's going to bring it back.

  • Rep. Tim Ryan:

    Well, even before the pandemic, Judy, Ohio job numbers were as bad as they were in 2009.

    As I said, we lost that General Motors factory, a lot of the supply chain around it in the auto industry in the northern part of the state. So we had some issues even before COVID hit.

    And, look, this is not about — like Val said, like, this is a snapshot in time. A lot of people in Ohio want to know where we're going. And I will just say, if you want to talk about being tough on China, I was in Congress when Vice President Biden and President Obama put tariffs on steel tubing that was getting dumped into our country. And that led to a billion-dollar investment in a steel mill in Youngstown and Girard, Ohio, a billion dollars, put about 1,500 union construction trade people to work for about a year-and-a-half, two years, and created hundreds of jobs.

    So, Joe Biden knows how to be tough on China. But that's half the story, because the way Trump did it destroyed our farmers in Ohio. Most of them are getting crushed right now.

    And then you go to the Build Back Better plan, where Joe Biden is throwing jet fuel on all these economic fires that are burning around electric vehicles, for example, batteries, charging stations, the new economy, where these union workers or people who work hard, play by the rules, but just want to make a good wage, Joe Biden is going to make sure they get cut in on the deal.

    But you have got to have a strategy to outcompete China, not just the bluster and the B.S. that Donald Trump gives. You have got to be tough, be firm, be smart like they were. But then you better have a plan to win the future. And they do. And Joe Biden and Kamala Harris do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congresswoman Demings, let me ask you about Kamala Harris, Senator Harris.

    You were very clearly on the short list, among those people Vice President Biden was looking at to be his vice presidential running mate. Was that generally a good experience or disappointing?

  • Rep. Val Demings:

    Well, Judy, let me say this.

    For someone who grew up in the South, the daughter of a maid and a janitor, to be considered, to be on that short list for such a critical position during such a critical time was an honor.

    Joe Biden was very blessed to have what I believe was a group of amazing women. And he selected Senator Harris. We're excited about that, I think the experience that she brings to the job.

    I can't wait to hear her tonight begin the process of prosecuting the case against this president of the United States. I cannot wait to hear her start talking about her own experiences, and also helping every American see themselves in her own experiences, and really displaying that the Democratic Party is that big tent, where every man, woman, boy and girl, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money they have in the bank, or where they live, has an opportunity to succeed.

    So, we're excited for Senator Harris. We're excited about this ticket, and we just want to get it done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Congresswoman Dingell, what else does this Democratic Convention need to convey in the next two nights?

    What else do they need to say in these crucial moments, where they have the attention of a lot of people, to help this ticket?

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell:

    You know, I think this has been an incredible convention. I didn't know what I really thought.

    But I think that Michelle Obama gave one of the — the best speech that I'd ever heard and really put out the case about why this election matters.

    And I have known Jill Biden since we were both young wives, and one of the first working spouses. And she told America who she was last night.

    We have heard from Americans across the country. Now, these next two nights, the two candidates are going to lay out their vision. What are the issues that they're going to fight for?

    And I think all of us, as Democrats, have got to find a way that we're going to connect intergenerationally, because we have got wisdom and youth. We have got caring about a lot of issues. And we have got to learn about how we can bring different perspectives to solving these problems, and how we're going to support this team and bring America together to soothe our heart and soul, and put us working together again, which we have not done for four years.

    We have been divided by fear and hatred. And they're going to show us how they're going to pull us together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Ryan, very quickly, looking back to the primaries, when you were running for president yourself, you said pretty tough things about Joe Biden.

    And we went back and looked. You said at one point you think he's declining. "I don't think he has the energy. There's a lack of clarity. We need someone to take Donald Trump down who can articulate a very clear vision."

    You did say, "I love the guy," but you were pretty tough on him. What do you think now?

  • Rep. Tim Ryan:

    Well, I think his campaign, like most campaigns, and obviously better than my campaign, he started off slow. But I think he picked up a lot of momentum, and then he peaked at the exact right same time.

    So, Debbie Dingell was just talking about wisdom. I think that's Joe Biden. I mean, yes, maybe he started a little slow, but he came on strong.

    And I think, quite frankly, this campaign has gotten stronger every single day. And I think Donald Trump is starting to feel the brunt of that, as the poll numbers start to shift.

    So, yes, he started out slow. I think he would probably admit that, but now he's running a great campaign. He's got a great team. And he's providing the stability and the healing that this country needs. He is the exact person to meet this moment for our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Congresswoman Demings, in just one sentence, for all the time we have left, what else does this convention need to say, need to do?

  • Rep. Val Demings:

    Michelle Obama gave us a call to action.

    And I want every voter who cares about the future of this country to think about her words. If you don't think it can get worse, believe me, it can. We need to elect Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congresswoman Val Demings, Congressman Tim Ryan, and, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, so good to see each one of you. Thank you so much.

  • Rep. Tim Ryan:

    Thanks.

  • Rep. Val Demings:

    Thank you.

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