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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Democrats’ 2020 motivation

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest in politics, including why so many Democrats are running for president, the importance of appealing to voters of color, which campaign issues are resonating and which aren’t and what to expect from the first debate.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is time for Politics Monday to help.

    I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio. And Tamara Keith of NPR, she co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Thank you both.

    Let's just jump right into this.

    Amy, I think Democrats have now gotten past large field, I don't know, epic, biblical.

  • Amy Walter:

    We're — yes. Yes. Mammoth.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Why is this field not just large, but extra large?

  • Amy Walter:

    There are a whole lot of reasons. We could spend the next hour talking about why the field is as big as it is.

    The most obvious is, look how successful Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were in 2016, two candidates that nobody gave any shot of getting where — how far they got in the process. So there's certainly a sense of, well, if they could do it, I could do it.

    But I think there's also a sense among a lot of Democrats that beating Donald Trump is so important, it's beyond just putting a Democrat in the White House, that they see Donald Trump as essentially an existential threat to the country, and that they want to be the one that can make sure that the right candidate is there to beat him.

    So finding that perfect candidate to beat Donald Trump is more important now than ever. And, finally, I think the party, which used to play a really big role in helping to narrow the field and thin the field, well, it doesn't have much power anymore, especially now that people can raise a whole bunch of money with these things, right, these smartphones.

    And they can bypass the traditional money gatekeepers. It can keep people in the race a lot longer.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, one thing I would just add is that, in 2016, Jeb Bush on the Republican side came out, and he wanted to have this sort of shock and awe. He was going to have all this money and scare away the rest of the field.

    And he didn't. There was a historically large field running in 2016 on the Republican side. Well, part of what this 22-, 21-, 24-person field on the Democratic side tells me is that there's no single candidate that is scaring everyone else out of the field.

    Everyone thinks that they have a chance. And no one — this really says that no one was afraid that Joe Biden was going to run for president and didn't run because of it. In fact, a huge number of people are running for president. And they believe that they have a shot.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's interesting, Tam. As we heard in Yamiche's report, there's a lot of attention on South Carolina. You said no single candidate is scaring the field. I wonder if no single state is owning the field.

    Why is South Carolina and why are African-American voters in particular getting so much love?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, they are important in the primary, certainly. African-American voters are very well represented among Democrats in important states like South Carolina, which is an early state, Latino voters in Nevada, another early state. Then you get to California, which is this big, diverse state.

    And then also what Hillary Clinton found when she was running in 2016 is that she was able to win in all of the Southern states with large African-American populations on the Democratic side. And so a lot of candidates are looking and saying, OK, maybe Iowa and New Hampshire are not my state, but if I can just make it past Iowa, New Hampshire, there are other states where maybe they will have more appeal or they will be able to be better represented.

    And also those very same voters are also a critical part of the Democratic electorate in the general election.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And, remember, South Carolina is important. It comes on a Saturday. Three days later is Super Tuesday. So beyond just being the place where you have for the first time a majority of voters that are African-American, it is momentum to take you into Super Tuesday, which has over 1,690 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

    Many of the states on Super Tuesday also have overwhelmingly diverse electorates. It's California. It's Texas. It's Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina. So, doing really well in South Carolina sets you up really well, because you do. You sort of have to turn right on a dime to go into a lot of big states, where you're not going to have a whole lot of time to introduce yourself.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I have got a soft spot for the politics of South Carolina. They are never boring.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Yes. And food.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And food. That's right.

    Now, Amy, I want to ask you. Earlier in the show, Nick Schifrin reported on two big flash points in the world, just two of the several flash points, in this case, North Korea and Iran.

    But we don't see voters responding to foreign policy in polls. Why is that not really an issue in this campaign? And what are issues for voters right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    So I think, back in 2008, foreign policy was a big issue, because the Iraq War was so unpopular, and there was a clear dividing line between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on who supported the war.

    And so that made that a big issue. Now, we don't have that same issue dominating the issue set for voters, Democrat or Republican. Instead, what we're finding is, what Democrats are really, really concerned about — there's a poll that just came out today, NBC/Wall Street Journal — overwhelming top issue for Democrats, health care.

    Overwhelming top issue for Republicans, immigration, not surprising. Those are the things that are taking up most of the oxygen. When we look more broadly, it's health care and jobs and the economy that are the top two issues.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam, what do you see?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and this is just something that people, regular people in America that these candidates are coming into contact with on a regular basis, they just aren't asking about foreign policy.

    And not to go back to 2016 again and again, but I was following Hillary Clinton's campaign. She is a former secretary of state. She could talk about foreign policy until she is blue, and she'd still have more to say. And yet she didn't talk about it very often on the trail, and she was almost never asked about it in her town halls.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Quickly, as we wrap up, I'm interested.

    Looking back at this huge field, it feels like there's so many right now. How many of these folks are actually going to make it to 2020, do you think?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I looked back at 2016.

    Again, as Tam said, there was a really big field, 16 candidates. Five of them dropped out before 2016, so throughout the 2015 year. These debates are going to be very important, who gets on the stage, how well they do.

    At some point, you need money and you need attention. And even if you have the greatest of intentions, you can't stay in if you don't have those two things.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Debates start in June. How big are those going to be, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oh, well, I mean, there will be 20 people over two nights. That's literally how big they will be.

    But I think, for a lot of voters, they — they aren't getting to see these candidates. They're seeing little snippets. And that will be the first big chance for these candidates to introduce themselves beyond sort of viral videos.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and to see them interact with one another.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it'll probably be the first debates where we will get to see a president live-tweet the other party's debates.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Wait for it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's going to be plenty of tweeting all around.

  • Amy Walter:

    Plenty.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oh, yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you. And from you as well.

    Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Tamara Keith of NPR, thank you both.

    And I want to let our viewers know, join us tomorrow, when Judy Woodruff will sit down with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders right here in our studio. You won't want to miss that.

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