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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Buttigieg’s surge, Democratic wins in the South

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including Pete Buttigieg’s surge in Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in South Carolina polls, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s health care plan update and what another Democratic gubernatorial upset in Louisiana means for President Trump in 2020.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday.

    I'm here with our Politics Monday team. That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith from NPR. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    And welcome to you both. We have some new poll numbers. Shall we dig in?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Indeed.

  • Amy Walter:

    Let's.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's go to Iowa first.

    Take a look at some of these numbers. This is from a new poll in Iowa for CNN and The Des Moines Register. Look who's at the top of this poll right now. Pete Buttigieg leads with 25 percent of support in the state. After him there, you see Senators Warren, former Vice President Biden and Senator Sanders.

    And then you have got the rest of the field, or that's basically everyone else, polling below 10 percent. That is in Iowa.

    Amy, start us off here.

  • Amy Walter:

    What is happening? Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What is happening here? How — that's a 16-point surge, we should mention, for Buttigieg.

  • Amy Walter:

    No, it's pretty remarkable that, of all the candidates, this is the one candidate who has gone literally from zero to the lead. Back in March, I think he was polling somewhere around 1 percent or 2 percent.

    But what's remarkable about Iowa right now, we have had four polls since March from The Des Moines Register, which is the gold standard of polling in the state. And while it's very volatile, right, we have had three different leads in these polls, so four polls, three different leaders, they have been the same four people.

    It's been of the pool of four people. We have a huge field, but the same four people are mentioned as either one, two, three, or four since March.

    And so what we're seeing is, yes, there is some volatility here, but it's not, at this point, opening a lane for somebody who is not in those top four.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, what do you see when you look at these numbers?

    One of these things for the voters is like, do they want someone who reflects back to them their values? Do they want someone who will beat Donald Trump? What does this say to you right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think part of what this says is that Pete Buttigieg has a pretty strong ground game in Iowa.

    And this is a unique state. It has a caucus system. He raised a lot of money earlier this year, and he spent it. He's investing putting staff on the ground in Iowa. He just did a bus tour through the state. All of those things, like, being someone who is the mayor of a small city and having time to meet a bunch of voters, that can actually matter in a state like Iowa and can be reflected in this poll.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it certainly helped Elizabeth Warren over the course of the summer, when people said, well, why is she now moving ahead, as she was in a June-September poll?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    I can't remember which one, but it was that she had been building this ground game here.

    One thing to talk about too is the fact, like, why are we spending so much time on Iowa? It has…

    (CROSSTALK)

    It has 45 delegates. California has over 490 delegates.

    But we know that really for the last 40 years, with an asterisk on 1992 — and I'm not getting in the details. We don't have enough time.

    (LAUGHTER)

    But the Democratic nominee for president has won Iowa, New Hampshire, or both. So, those two states, again, for the last 40 years, have told us who the nominee will be, which is why Iowa, one or the other, right, is so important.

    And it also sets the narrative. And it sets the media expectations really for a good — obviously, for the next week, before we get to New Hampshire, but it really does winnow the field pretty quickly.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And Iowa, though, is not perfectly reflective of the Democratic Party or America as a whole.

  • Amy Walter:

    It is not.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is the criticism.

    Iowa and New Hampshire are super white.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And it just is what it is. They're also highly educated.

    And there are — there are a lot of demographics that make Iowa and New Hampshire not your standard reflection of the — of the broader Democratic Party, which is where you get to South Carolina, where we also have a new poll, and where Pete Buttigieg is in fourth place, but, like, barely registering.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's see if we can put that up, so you can talk to these numbers while people look at them at home too.

    This is the latest South Carolina poll from Quinnipiac out today. A very different picture here, right?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and Pete Buttigieg knows that he's had trouble with African American voters.

    He's been working on it pretty much most of his campaign, at least since the summer. But it continues to be a challenge. And you see that in polling in South Carolina. It's also not clear how he's doing in Nevada, which is the state that comes after that.

    And then it's Super Tuesday, which is a whole bunch of states, including California.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you have mentioned to our producer earlier, Buttigieg now being on top in some ways in Iowa, does that make him more of a target for his fellow candidates?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    So, look — so here's what we have seen. In December and through March, it was Biden who was on top in Iowa. Scrutiny gets onto Biden. Then it moves over to Warren. She's leading. Scrutiny on Warren and her Medicare for all plan. She starts to dip a little bit.

    And now we see Buttigieg on top. And you will remember we have a debate on Wednesday. And I'm sure his friends and colleagues on the stage with him will have a couple questions for him to answer.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is a prediction from Amy Walter, who hates to make predictions.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But you do bring me to Elizabeth Warren. And I want to ask you about sort of an evolution her Medicare for all plan.

    This has been sort of the defining issue for her candidacy. And she seemed to, I don't want to say evolve. It's shifted a little bit now. She's rolled out sort of a timeline for how she plans to get there.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you make of that?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's that whole trying to have cake and eating it too or whatever the phrase — however the phrase goes, which is, she's been getting a tremendous amount of criticism, even from Democrats, for a plan that would kick people off of their private insurance and institute a Medicare for all or basically a single-payer system.

    What she has offered is to say, well, OK, for the first two years, I will be able to push through a public option, which is, people can stay on their private insurance or they can buy into a Medicare system, similar to what Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden are talking about, many other Democrats are talking about

    But then, by year three and four, all those people who've gotten in the public option are going to say, this is so great, I'm saving so much money, the health care system has been so incredibly altered in the years since it's been implemented, that we're going to do then Medicare for all.

  • Tamara Keith:

    But let me just say that I have covered presidents. And their third years and fourth years tend not to be when they pass most of their most meaningful legislation.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And that's why candidates always talk about, on day one, or the first 100 days.

  • Amy Walter:

    Day one.

  • Tamara Keith:

    There's a reason for that.

    Midterms happen. Things come screeching to a halt.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Does this open her up to criticism that she's changing her tune, that she's lining up more with moderate candidates?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It has opened her up to criticism, remarkably, both from the Bernie Sanders side of the world and the Pete Buttigieg side of the world.

    She's getting it from all angles, in part because she decided to go out there and say that she had a plan and put it in writing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

    Tam, I'm going to give you the last word on something else here. I want to make sure we get your take, because the last time we were sitting here, I was asking you about these three key Southern states in which President Trump campaigned very heavily for the gubernatorial candidates there, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

    Those are the margins by which President Trump won election back in 2016 in each of those states. You said watching those races would paint a picture, or at least give us an indication of what's ahead.

    What do we now know?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I will just say that President Trump at a rally said, you have got to give me a big win, please, and said that the eyes of history would be watching, that people should send a message to Washington and the Democrats in Washington.

    Well, guess what happens? Two out of three of those ended up going to the Democrat. Now, he will say that the Republican in Kentucky, good guy, he says, but deeply unpopular. And he will say, well, John Bel Edwards, it was close, and it was super close.

    But the reality is that the president couldn't get them over the finish line. He went and did a bunch of rallies, put a lot of personal capital — political capital out there to say, like, I'm the president, I can drag them over the finish line.

    And he didn't do it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, a few seconds left. Want to weigh in on this?

    Sorry.

  • Amy Walter:

    A few seconds. Yes.

    If I am a Democrat in the more moderate side of the equation, I looked at those and said, what those two Democrats did, the ones who won, they ran as a centrist. They ran on building on the Affordable Care Act, not on Medicare for all. The Medicaid expansion is very popular in those states, i.e., Democrats, stay toward the Affordable Care Act and building on that, not moving too far to the left on health care.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is what worked for them there.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, always good to see you guys.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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