Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on candidates and their midterm messages ahead of election

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Laura Barrón-López to discuss the latest political news, including the politics of hurricane relief aid and lawmakers launching their final midterm messages ahead of election.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is shaping up to be a busy week in politics, as midterm races intensify and President Biden travels to survey hurricane damage.

    Laura Barron-Lopez has more.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    After visiting Puerto Rico today, President Biden plans to travel to more hurricane-damaged communities in Florida later this week. Meanwhile, lawmakers have left the Capitol and are launching their final midterm messages in new campaign ads.

    To talk about the political implications of all of this, I'm joined by our Politics Monday duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Thank you, ladies, for joining us.

    Amy, I wanted to start with you.

    President Biden was in Puerto Rico today, is going to Florida later this week. And Florida is poised to receive billions of dollars of disaster relief. That's led to some accusations against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Senator Marco Rubio, both Republicans, of hypocrisy because they voted against the same type of disaster relief for New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy hit.

    Is this impacting voters at all in terms of their perceptions of the Republicans in Florida?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    That's right.

    I think, at this moment in time, especially in the immediate aftermath of this hurricane and the cleanup that is going to be needed afterward, where voters in the state are looking to Governor DeSantis and their senators is the amount of help that they can give them. And they want to see their elected officials focus really almost exclusively on what they can do to help, not getting in political fights or losing their focus on what is immediately in front of them.

    I think, on the question of whether these sorts of issues, this hypocrisy, did you vote for — against giving money to one part of the country while asking taxpayers to give money to you, what you hear Republicans saying like Marco Rubio is, listen, I will vote — I voted plenty of times to give money to other communities hit by natural disasters, but these bills have to be clean. They can't have add-ons into them.

    But one person's add-on, of course, right, that doesn't look like a clean bill may be somebody else's lifeline in another district or part of the country. This is the dance that always becomes challenging when trying to pass these sorts of bills in Washington, because what is a disaster may look obvious in some places, and it's a little bit more challenging in others.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And we don't know yet if Governor DeSantis and President Biden are going to appear together when the president goes to Florida.

    But looking at the broader midterm math, Tamara, Democrats are hammering the abortion rights issue across the country. And incumbent House Democrat Abigail Spanberger just launched an ad featuring a rape victim in her race.

  • Adelle, Rape Victim:

    At the age of 17, I was raped. It was devastating.

    Yesli Vega said women can't get pregnant from rape because it's not happening organically. That made me sick.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Tamara, as you know, this is about defying the odds of history for Democrats, because, typically, the party in charge of the White House loses the midterms.

    Is this abortion rights issue giving them a chance?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Well, it is certainly something that they are putting their money behind.

    A way to know whether a politician or a party thinks that a message is working is to look where the money is flowing. And in the last couple of months, basically, since the Dobbs decision, but it's grown it as time has gone on, Democrats are putting more and more money into ads with this abortion messaging.

    Many of their negative campaign ads about their Republican opponents in particular focus on abortion rights. And they have also tried to expand it to say that this is about freedom and about democratic ideals and broaden it out beyond the abortion issue.

    The reason they're doing this is because young voters, female voters, there are a lot of voters who are deeply concerned by the Dobbs decision, by what they have seen following it. And so Democratic campaigns are investing in this. They also saw a couple of special elections that led them to believe that this is an issue that will work for them.

    Is it enough? I don't know that it's enough to overcome all of the other fundamental challenges that Democrats face in this cycle, including economic concerns and just the fundamentals of a midterm when the president is in power and is not super popular.

    But an analysis of data from AdImpact says that about 20 percent of all spending right now is on these abortion-related ads from Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Speaking of the economy, that was initially the issue that it seemed like Republicans were going to be running full steam ahead on. And that's not to say that they aren't.

    But they are now focusing in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania a lot on crime and a lot on immigration. But, in Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz, this Republican Senate candidate there, has a new ad out on drugs and on crime.

  • Narrator:

    John Fetterman supports decriminalizing dangerous drugs like fentanyl and heroin. And Fetterman supports creating heroin injection sites in our neighborhoods.

    Mehmet Oz (R), Pennsylvania Senatorial Candidate: Fetterman's ideas are radical, deadly, and wrong. Giving addicts easy access to drugs is not the answer.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Stoking fear among their base was a big thing that Republicans have done in the past. They did it in 2018, and it didn't quite work that election cycle. But do you think that, this time around, it will?

  • Amy Walter:

    So the challenge in a place like Pennsylvania for both of the candidates, because this is an open seat, they were having to define themselves, right?

    Those are two people who aren't sitting incumbent. For Dr. Oz, who just saw there, his challenge, a lot of it was in the primary. A lot of conservative voters didn't know anything about Dr. Oz. They didn't really trust him. He was not originally from Pennsylvania, just recently moved from New Jersey.

    And he seemed like somebody, because of what his past profession was, which was being on TV, hanging out with people like Oprah, being part of sort of the Hollywood set, that maybe he wasn't their kind of conservative. So he had to bring those voters back in. But what he needs to do right now is pivot more toward the general election and bring in those swing voters.

    John Fetterman has done a great job up until this point of defining himself as not your sort of typical Democrat, not your typical politician. You could see in that photo he's got the sweatshirt and the cargo pants and the tattoos.

  • Tamara Keith:

    That is his uniform.

  • Amy Walter:

    That is his uniform.

    But his record while he's been in office has been much more liberal than the state itself. And it gives Republicans the opportunity to cast him as out of step on this issue.

    Look, just throwing out the term abortion or throwing out the term crime isn't going to work in every race. Not every candidate is going to be able to be easily labeled as out of step or to the extreme, out of the mainstream on those issues. But some candidates, like we saw in the abortion ad, have said things that put them outside of the mainstream.

    Some candidates — and Fetterman is one of those — have called in the past for a decriminalization of some smaller — small amounts of drugs, or he's on the pardon board as lieutenant governor. So he has a record on those issues. That may play better in a place like Pennsylvania than it would just bringing this issue up against another candidate who may not have a track record or have any relationship with these issues.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And a note on that. Yes, Fetterman supports decriminalizing drugs…

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    … which is very different than legalization.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Right.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And he casts it more as a public health vs. prosecution issue.

    But I want to also get to former President Donald Trump and something he did on Friday, which was, "NewsHour," we have covered a lot about the growing violent rhetoric among the Republican Party. And on Friday, former President Trump attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    And in his post on TRUTH Social, Trump said McConnell — quote — "has a death wish and must immediately seek help and advice from his China-loving wife, Coco Chow."

    Today, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney said that rhetoric like that could cause violence. She also called it racist. But the vast majority of Republicans have not condemned this.

    So, Tamara, what does this silence among the GOP say about the party today?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, this is pretty classic silence.

    When Trump has tweeted things in the past, now he puts it out on TRUTH Social, he goes up to the line, he crosses the line, he does things and says things that put Republicans in a terrible position. And then they say, oh, gosh, I haven't seen the tweet. And it's a pretty standard pattern of trying to wish it away, where the Republican Party knows that he's this powerful figure.

    I mean, he is the Republican front-runner until something changes for 2024. And he — his endorsements are needed, and he's out doing rallies. And yet he is a very difficult problem for Republicans, in terms of wanting to lead or being able to just say, oh, we have moved on. They can't say they have moved on.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Amy, final thoughts?

  • Amy Walter:

    Totally agree with this.

    And I think what we're going to find is, the more that Donald Trump is in the news, the better Democrats feel.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you so much for your time.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

Listen to this Segment