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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on final campaign messages, early voting

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including campaign messages from President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the presidential race’s final weeks and what early voting patterns suggest about when we might have election results.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Early voting, either in-person or by mail, is under way in all 50 states, as both presidential campaigns make their final case to voters.

    Here to analyze each campaign's closing message, our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Welcome to you both. Good to see you.

    And, Amy, let's start with you.

    Can you believe it, this final stretch now before Election Day?

    Look, we have got Senator Harris back out on the campaign trail. We have got Vice President Biden prepping for Thursday's debate with the president.

    From the Biden campaign's perspective, what is the name of the game right now in these final days? What should they be focusing on?

  • Amy Walter:

    The name of the game is probably status quo.

    This is right now a challenger candidate who is leading his opponent, Donald Trump, by close to 10, 11 points, at least in the average of national polls. He is leading by seven or more points in the key battleground states in the Midwest.

    So, this is a, let's just keep doing what we're doing.

    And the good news for Biden is that the president is actually helping him there. Again, the focus the president has put on denouncing Anthony Fauci, questioning today on a call whether people really care so much about COVID anymore, they kind of want to just move on, telling states they need to open, getting into a fight with the governor of Michigan, who recently was a target for kidnapping, these things are helping Joe Biden, because they're focusing on all of the things he has been saying all along in this campaign.

    One, we need to fix the COVID crisis, and we're not going to get anywhere as a country, whether it is on the economy or anything else, until we fix that, number one. So, it is still a big deal, despite what the president said.

    And, two, the president's own rhetoric and his style and his behavior which, for many voters, has become the issue — I mean, it has been for quite some time, Amna, from the really very beginning of his presidency.

    But now what we're seeing, as we get closer and closer to Election Day, as voters are starting to say, OK, this is somebody we're going to have to be with more four more years, the president needs to give those voters something different, an assurance that he is going to be able to not just solve the problems, but not divide the country, and — as much as he has been doing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And so, Tam, despite everything Amy just laid out, we heard from the president's campaign today.

    His campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said this. He said: "We feel better about our pathway to victory than we have at any point in the campaign."

    What is that optimism based on? What are they doing to close the gap right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, they have also been claiming to feel good about the president's standing all along, to be clear.

    Well, what they are arguing is that they have seen movement in voter registration in some key states, with more people signing up as Republicans in recent months.

    The other thing that they say is that they have an amazing ground game, that they have two — more than two million volunteers who are knocking on doors and making phone calls. And while the Biden campaign basically stopped in-person activities, the Trump campaign did not stop in-person activities for very long and has been very actively involved in that ground game.

    So that is what they are claiming. They are claiming that they do have multiple paths to victory, though, certainly, they don't have any many paths as the Biden campaign and former Vice President Joe Biden has.

    So, they're out there. They — you know, the president is claiming joyfully, campaigning joyfully, but it is not clear whether that is a facade. Actually, it seems kind of likely it could be a facade.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about them being out there, Tam, because you were with the president out there, most recently for a couple of big rallies he held.

    There was the one in Macon, Georgia, that got a lot of attention, because — I was looking over some of the pictures, big crowds, very closely packed, not a lot of social distancing, very few masks.

    There was even some crowd-surfing from Georgia state Representative Vernon Jones, as we're seeing now.

    What did you hear from people on the ground there? What is the message that they're hearing from the president, and how is it landing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, the thing with President Trump is, his campaign speeches at this point in the campaign, where he is making one or two stops a day, these speeches are 90 minutes' long.

    He has a message. His campaign has a message. It is not 90 minutes, though. It is a few key catchphrases, like Joe Biden — Donald Trump has done more in 47 months than Joe Biden has done in 47 years. There is another catchphrase about, this is a choice between a Trump recovery and a Biden depression.

    And these are the president's main points. But they get completely and totally lost in the other hour of sidetracks and just sort of random greatest hits, talking about low-flow toilets, or any number of other things that President Trump does that his base eats up.

    And these rallies, they are about the base. It's all about the base, which ties back to the ground game. This isn't about persuasion. This is about getting people to show up and vote for the president, who they know like the president.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And so, Amy, even with both campaigns actively messaging in this way, in these final days now before Election Day, we should point out early voting is under way in some form in every single state.

    Latest numbers show over 29 million people have already voted. These are already folks who have made up their mind. They're done listening to the messages for the most part.

    When you look at the numbers, Amy, what does that say to you right now about the state of the race?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it says, hey, we have never voted in a pandemic before.

    I think a lot of people are banking on getting their votes in because they don't know what it is going to look like on November 3 in their own community, and whether they feel safe and going in and standing in what could be a really long line on Election Day.

    They have also been sort of conditioned by messages from the party leaders, Democrats saying, get out and vote early, the president saying, I don't trust this early voting, it is rigged.

    So, I think what we're going to see most likely are more Democrats voting early, Republicans voting on Election Day. And we also know that, for many of these states, this is the first time that many of them, especially those in the Midwest, have had absentee — no-excuse absentee voting, and where many states sent out applications.

    So, there is a lot going on here, Amna. And I think that the challenge is trying to decipher too much from these early votes. I know that a lot of folks want to say, if there is a lot of people voting, what does — this early — what does that tell us about maybe who has an advantage going into Election Day?

    All I will say is that both campaigns know exactly who their universe of voters are and how they wanted to get them to turn out. We saw in 2016, for example, the Democrats were feeling great about Florida and North Carolina in their early vote programs there.

    What they found on Election Day was that the Donald Trump campaign, their voters came out, and the Trump voters came out on Election Day in huge numbers, and overcame the big advantage that Democrats had on early vote.

    So what it does tell us, Amna, for — I will say one practical thing, especially in those Midwestern states. If the race is really close, because of the rules about when ballots can be counted, it may mean we won't know who won in those key battleground states on election night, or maybe even up to a couple of days later.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Some big, big numbers, as you say, but also, as you say, we don't yet know what they mean.

    That is Amy Walter and Tamara Keith for Politics Monday today.

    Good to see you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Good to see you.

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