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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on coronavirus politics, Michigan primary stakes

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including how the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has changed since Super Tuesday, why Michigan is such an important state for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders given its 2016 history and the politics of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And breaking down the latest developments on the 2020 campaign trail, as always, it's time for Politics Monday.

    First up, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter." She's in New York. And Tamara Keith, we are told is getting ready to join us in a few minutes.

    Amy, let's start with what a difference a week makes. The last time we had Politics Monday, before Super Tuesday.

    Take me through where you see the race now, with Biden in the lead of delegates. Where are we?

  • Amy Walter:

    I know. We really are with Biden in the lead of delegates.

    In fact, Lisa, I was just walking through our conversation in my head the other day when you said, well, what would it take for Joe Biden to be able to catch up?

    And I said, well, you know, part of Joe Biden's problem is, he doesn't have a lot of money or infrastructure. And that actually didn't matter much, because what he had was unity. And he had Donald Trump.

    And Donald Trump is the best get-out-the-vote operation that Democrats have had. It helped them in the 2017 legislative races. It helped them in the 2018 races for Congress in the midterms. And it's helping Joe Biden now, because Democratic voters are so focused — we have been talking about this, Lisa — from the very beginning of this contest, the intense focus that Democrats, the majority of Democrats have, on beating Donald Trump, how important that is to them.

    And when every — almost every other Democrat dropped out, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O'Rourke all came together right before Super Tuesday and endorsed Joe Biden, what it said to Democratic voters was, OK, this is the candidate who can beat Donald Trump.

    And it paid off, obviously, quite substantially on Super Tuesday. So where we are right now, Lisa, is, we're looking at Joe Biden going from underdog to front-runner, and now it's Bernie Sanders who's the underdog.

    He is going to need the kind of muscular turnout and vote share that Joe Biden had in Super Tuesday for this upcoming Super Tuesday.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    Tamara Keith, so what does Bernie Sanders need to do now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, he needs to win.

    And the thing is that Michigan in particular is a really symbolic state, because it's a state that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 in November. She also lost it in the primary in that year to Bernie Sanders. He won it. He came from behind and surprised everyone and won it.

    And that was really a critical moment for his campaign. That was the moment, that surprise victory, that essentially allowed him to stay in the race through to the end. But if he can't win in Michigan, it could be a similarly significant moment for his campaign this time around in the opposite direction.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So let's look at those states voting tomorrow.

  • Amy Walter:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Oh, Amy, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, just a quick point.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Amy Walter:

    It is true, it was a come-from-behind victory last time for Bernie Sanders.

    But even that, just like now, a narrow victory is not enough for him. He needs to make up a lot of delegates. Now, Joe Biden has a significant enough lead that it is going to be hard for him to catch up without a big win in some of these states, including Michigan.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So let's look at what's on — what the possibilities are for tomorrow.

    These are the states — I know Yamiche pointed this out before. These are the six states, mostly the middle of the country. And also then Washington state is another big one.

    Looking at the Michigan poll that came out just a few hours ago, one thing stood out. Joe Biden's winning in many, many groups, but not with the young. Let's look at what's happening there.

    Bernie Sanders is up by 11 points with voters under 50. That's not just 20-year-olds. Those are voters under 50.

    So, Amy, my question about that is, that's part of the Obama coalition. What's going on that they are not signing on to this electability argument, apparently. Is that crucial for Biden? Is that enough for Sanders?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, about two-thirds of all primary voters going into this have been under the age of 45.

    And Joe Biden, especially in these last series of elections, has been doing very well with those voters. You're right that that sort of older millennial to younger Gen Z has still stuck with Bernie Sanders. The good news in this poll for Bernie Sanders is, he's still winning those voters.

    The bad news is, he's not winning them by as big a number as, say, Joe Biden is winning those voters 50 and over.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let's turn here.

    Most of these states voting tomorrow, interestingly enough, do not yet have cases of coronavirus reported. That's the exception. Most of the country does have cases of coronavirus.

    So these campaigns are continuing to have public event, no changes in schedule yet. I cover Congress. We have five members of Congress now, ladies, who are self-quarantining because of exposure to the COVID-19 virus, but no major changes on Capitol Hill yet.

    However, I know some staff are telling their bosses, let's stop shaking hands now to politicians.

    I want to ask you — Tam, I will start with you — is this going to change the campaign trail and sort of how our government and politicians operate?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I think so.

    I think that there's no way that it doesn't eventually. I mean, you don't see Sanders and Biden campaigning in Washington state right now, where coronavirus is very prevalent.

    And the thing is, like, the — President Trump typically, every — like, all year long, has had a rally on the eve of the Democratic primary in a swing state, in an important state, New Hampshire, Iowa.

    Well, tomorrow, Michigan is voting. Michigan is like one of the most important swing states. And President Trump doesn't have a rally scheduled in Michigan. He's not there tonight. And there's no indication — he has no rallies scheduled out at all at the moment.

    Now, his campaign says, nothing is changing, they're not doing anything differently. He did go to a bunch of fund-raisers over the last several days and shake a lot of hands.

    But, inevitably, something is going to change, because so much of daily life is changing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to talk about another thing that we're watching, of course. Hearing from the president on coronavirus is something that we have been wanting to do for a few days.

    And this is a case now, we heard from Judy's interview just a few minutes ago sober economic news, not positive, very serious health issue rising in this country.

    Amy, what exactly do you think the political risks are for the president in how he handles this? Where is he right now in showing leadership?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    I mean, right now, I think the jury is still out. The latest polling that came out today, the Quinnipiac poll, 43 percent approve of the job that the president's doing on handling the coronavirus, 49 percent disapprove. So that's a minus-6 percent.

    But quite — that's a lot better than his overall job approval rating, which is minus-15. So it's better — that's one point.

    The other piece is, the president is so focused and has been so diligent about being the disrupter. That is his brand. That is what he likes doing, keeping people off base, keeping his opponents sort of on their back heel.

    But what voters are going to want, if we are in a serious health crisis, which we may very well be, in a serious economic crisis, what they want is stability, not chaos.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK. Thank you to both of you.

    One quick note. Tam, I know you said the virus is prevalent in Washington state, 174 cases. So it's something that obviously they have a concern about, but is something that is in a certain area.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both very much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, thank you, all three.

    And, tomorrow night, please join me and the entire "PBS NewsHour" team for a primary election night special. That's at 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on your PBS station, also online and on all of our social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.

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