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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on campaigning during COVID-19

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump’s prediction of an economic resurgence after the pandemic, the difference in campaign strategies between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden and how public perceptions of the COVID-19 threat vary according to political identity.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the Senate returned to Washington and House members stayed home, last night, on FOX News, President Trump declared the economy is on its way to a speedy recovery.

    Here to analyze the politics of his response and more, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    And before I turn to you, I want to let you listen to some of what President Trump had to say at this FOX town hall last night, and also some of what Joe Biden had to say today at a different town hall that had to do with helping essential workers, particularly in the Latino community.

    Let's listen to both of those, and I will come back.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You get a job where you make more money, frankly. And I think that's going to happen.

    I think we're going to have an incredible following year. We're going to go into a transition in the third quarter, and we're going to see things happening that look good. I really believe that. I have a good feel for this stuff. I have done it for a long time.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    You know, I have put out a detailed plan about what I think we should be doing right now to support our front-line workers and address the disparities we're seeing with COVID-19 impacts all across the country.

    And I truly think that, if we do this right, we have an incredible opportunity to not just dig out of this crisis, but to fundamentally transform the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, I'm going to come to you first.

    You have the president pivoting to talk about the economy at a time when, frankly, the numbers of cases and deaths on COVID are not looking very good. The president acknowledged that in part last night. But he's talking about the economy, saying it's going to get better.

    Joe Biden, on the other hand, talking about how we need to protect these front-line workers. What do you make of these two approaches? Here we are in May of this election year.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    You can hear it with President Trump last night in that town hall. He was so nostalgic for that time before COVID, when the economy was strong, his numbers on handling the economy so strong, and his focus was winning the election on the strength of a good economy.

    And now here we are with this pandemic that is not just devastating our health, but obviously devastating the economy. And he wants to, and he said over and over again, bring America back, we need to get Americans working, we need to get this economy back.

    With Joe Biden, what I find really interesting, Judy, is that — especially that clip that put in there, was Joe Biden was attacked by many in the progressive community for not wanting to be progressive — for not being progressive enough, for being really a status-quo stand-in.

    And what he's doing is not just talking about bringing the economy back, but putting a focus on the people who are looking to make more structural — what he is looking to do is make more structural change by focusing on the people who right now are not just on the front lines — he talked a lot about meatpacking workers — but who also are — were doing poorly in the economy before the COVID-19 outbreak and continue to struggle even now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, as you listen to this and you look at what these two candidates are saying, what does it tell you about where they see themselves in this contest?

  • Tamara Keith:

    President Trump wanted his campaign slogan, had been sort of rolling out to be, keep America great.

    And now it's more like, make America great again, again.

    But, you know, you have a situation where you have the president of the United States with all the advantages of incumbency that a president of the United States has. And you have Joe Biden sort of stuck in his basement doing these Webcasts, trying his best to campaign. But it's very different.

    Now, obviously, President Trump can't go to rallies. He is yearning for a day when he can get back out in an arena with 25,000 people. Unclear when or if that will happen.

    But, certainly, he still has the ability to, you know, get on Air Force One, like he's going to do tomorrow, and sort of flaunt the power of the presidency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right, Amy.

    The president tomorrow is going to fly from Washington to Arizona to visit a company where they manufacture protective gear, masks that people are wearing right now. How much of an advantage does the president have at a time like this? Joe Biden is at home.

  • Amy Walter:


    And you could hear if that audio, he wasn't just in the basement. He was sitting, I think, on some sort of porch or something. You could hear crickets or frogs or something in the background, while the president gets to not only fly in Air Force One, but sits at the Lincoln Memorial. The contrast couldn't be stronger.

    At the same time even with those advantages, Judy, the president is still looking at approval ratings that are in some cases 20 to 30 points lower than governors in many of these states, red states, blue states.

    All these governors have used this opportunity in the spotlight, under this crisis moment, to meet that moment.

    This president has met it in the same way he meets every moment, which is in this very polarizing, sort of predictable way. And so what should be a big advantage of a bully pulpit has not worked out that way.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam — go ahead, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This trip to Arizona is an official event. It is not a campaign event.

    But it is not a coincidence that the president is going to Arizona. It's a state that he won in 2016. But the reality is that it's fully in play in 2020.

    His campaign has talked to — I talked to someone from his campaign today. They have had people on the ground there since 2015. But there's a real sense that this is a state that they're going to have to fight for, that Arizona used to be red Arizona, isn't a guarantee. And, certainly, under the current circumstances, it's not a guarantee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, you brought up the governors. We are seeing right now a number of states, I guess, what is it, they're saying 29, 30 states, go ahead and planning to open up again, even with these forecasts of rising cases and deaths.

    And the states that seem to be moving ahead, more of them have Republican governors. The states that are saying, no, let's wait, more of them have Democratic governors.

    How partisan is this right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it's really interesting, Judy.

    The Kaiser Foundation had an interesting pullout this morning that looked at — or some data out this morning that looked at the rate of growth, especially over the last two weeks, in states that had Democratic governors and states that had Republican governors.

    Now, while it is true that states that have Democratic governors overall have more deaths, even per capita, than those who have red governors, when you look over the last two weeks at the rate of growth in both cases and deaths, it is the red states that are seeing an incredible uptick.

    So, the question — and you are right to ask this, Judy — is, what if this is true that we're not only going to see more cases, but more deaths in red states? Is that going to change the perception by people who live in those states and governors on this issue?

    And what I found really interesting, I was digging through some polls taken in Michigan and in Florida. These are two battleground states. One has a Democratic governor. One has a Republican governor.

    When you asked voters in those states, how worried are you about actually contracting coronavirus, and then asked specifically, very worried or somewhat worried, the people who said they were very worried also happened to line up pretty closely with whether you were a Clinton voter or not.

    So, in Michigan, it was something like 52 percent of Clinton voters said they were very worried about that, of getting coronavirus, 57 percent in Florida. But among voters who voted for Trump in 2016, a quarter or a third said they were very worried about this issue.

    So, you can see at that moment, whether you have a red governor — you're in a red state or a blue state, governor who is Democrat, governor who's Republican, the voter themselves and the ideological lens through which they're looking also is impacting how serious they believe the threat of COVID infection is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, you have got 30 seconds.

  • Tamara Keith:


    So, I was talking to a researcher at Hamilton College about this. And he was pointing out that, up until this point, there's been sort of a disproportionate weight of the coronavirus being borne by counties that were Clinton counties, that went for Hillary Clinton.

    And there are also a lot of racial disparities that are underlying that and might explain why the politics are the way they are. But that could certainly change as the virus changes the way it affects the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So interesting, these numbers state by state. We're seeing things we didn't see just a month or so ago.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, we thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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