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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Iowa 2020 poll, Mueller report hearings

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join John Yang to discuss the top political news stories, including the latest Iowa poll numbers on 2020 Democratic candidates, potential “warning signs” for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and another round of Mueller report hearings on Capitol Hill, amid divided public sentiment over impeachment.

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  • John Yang:

    And now Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report. She's also the host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" from "The Takeaway." And Tamara Keith from NPR, she co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Amy, Tam, welcome.

    Tam, let me start with you.

    We heard — Lisa told us in that report the findings from that Iowa poll, where you have got two groupings. You have got really four candidates in double digits, and then a big drop-off.

    Is that likely to be that — have we already divided this field up?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, the interesting thing is that some of those candidates who are in the 1 and 2 percent were higher up in people's minds and in voters' minds a few months ago.

    So among the top five, like, if you add Kamala Harris into this group that includes Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, if you dig into this poll a little bit deeper, and you look at who is a second choice, who is actively being considered, then, even though Kamala Harris is only at 7 percent in that — in the sort of the main poll, if you add those other items in, she moves up, and she's part of that group.

    And it really says that there are a lot of second choices. There are a lot of people considering a lot of others, and that a lot of movement could still happen. This is — this is definitely not locked in.

  • John Yang:

    Second choice, of course, in the Iowa caucus is very important, because if a candidate doesn't get enough to cross the threshold, then they regroup and choose others.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    Amy, as we heard, Lisa also reported they asked people, Democratic likely caucus-goers in Iowa, whether certain characteristics would play an advantage or a disadvantage.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    We have got another question. A plurality said that a candidate being over age 70 would be a disadvantage.

    That's, of course, running against Donald Trump, who is in his 70s. But of the three — of the top people in that poll, here are their ages on Election Day.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Right.

    So, it speaks to a couple of things, one, Tam's point that this is still a very fluid field, and a majority — for those top few candidates that we talked about, a majority of voters saying they're at least giving some attention to these candidates, 50, 60 percent of voters saying, yes, I am taking a look at them, I am putting them in my mind as a potential person I could vote for. So, speaks to the fluidity.

    The other thing it speaks to is the fact that these voters are super cross-pressured, because not only do they believe that being over 70 is not an asset against Donald Trump, but the number one advantage they see of a candidate right now to go up against Donald Trump, having experience in Washington, which all three of those candidates possess.

    Certainly, the vice president possesses that in — much more than all of the other candidates. The other thing that was really interesting in this poll, in terms of other assets that Democrats were looking for, they still believe that finding the candidate who is best suited or best able to beat Donald Trump is more important to them than finding a candidate who aligns with their views or their ideology.

    So, once again, it's this battle over, who's the most electable, which the only way we're going to find out who's the most electable is to see who is the most electable?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Who is the most electable?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Who wins Iowa is going to set the table for who the most electable is.

  • John Yang:

    There was also in that poll — sort of the age and experience, of course, speaks to Joe Biden.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    But are there danger signs or warning signs in that — other warning signs in that poll for Joe Biden?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and I was actually looking at Bernie Sanders and warning signs for him, because he — last time around and earlier, there was a big space between Bernie Sanders and the next tier of candidates.

    And now Bernie Sanders is basically in a lock on with Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren. And Senator Warren talks about many of the same themes in many of the same ways that Bernie Sanders does.

    Now, interestingly, Pete Buttigieg is sort of trying to be more of a middle-of-the-road Democrat, in much the same way that Joe Biden does, without any of the historical baggage.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and the other issue for Biden and the challenge for him, what you see underneath the numbers, is the enthusiasm for him among Democrats is not as high as it is for the other Democrats in the race.

    So voters are saying, yes, I'm voting for him, but they're not as enthusiastic about supporting him as Democratic voters are for some of the other people in this race.

    But, look, I know these polls are early, and it's just a snapshot in time. It's important. But this is where we're going to — it's important that we understand where this race starts and as we're watching it move forward. And I think Tam makes this very good point, which is the fluidity of this, but it's also confirming a lot of the things that we have been saying about Iowa.

    Voters are kicking the tires. They are interested in knowing who these people are. They want to find an electable candidate, and they are not — they're open to a whole bunch of different kinds of candidates who don't necessarily fit one distinct ideological profile.

  • John Yang:

    Movement today on — or activity today on investigations into President Trump, a deal with the Justice Department to get some evidence sent to Congress. There was a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee today.

    Last week, the "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll asked Democrats about whether they believe that the impeachment proceedings should start or continue the investigation. Very divided. It's also very divided in the House.

    What — how does this — what does this say about how the Democrats in Washington proceed, how they move through this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I think they're trying to have it both ways, which was what today was about. It is showing that 36 percent who want to start impeachment proceedings that, look, we are holding the Department of Justice accountable.

    Because we threatened to subpoena the Department of — the attorney general, we got these documents. We're going to hold hearings. We will be able to show America what was in the Mueller report.

    For those people who say, I really don't want to start impeachment hearings, they're not impeachment hearings. We're just asking questions. We're just getting documents, right? Everybody gets what they want.

    Also notable in the Iowa poll, Iowa Democrats, who are also a pretty — generally a pretty liberal group, also evenly divided.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, that's absolutely it.

    And today's hearing, which included cable news fixtures coming to provide testimony that was not unlike what they provide on cable news on a regular basis, is unlikely to change anyone's mind.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    If you are a Republican — or if you're a Democratic House member who is in a purple district, you're not going to watch that hearing and say, oh, my gosh, I need to change my position, we should move forward with impeachment today because these people who say this all the time said it again in a House hearing.

    As an indication of how this is probably not moving anyone, today, CNN moved away from that hearing as the hearing was happening very quickly because there was a helicopter crash in New York City, and that became wall-to-wall coverage.

    And if this — now, if this were a real impeachment hearing, that would have the wall-to-wall coverage. The helicopter crash probably wouldn't pull people away from it.

  • John Yang:

    Tamara Keith, that's got to be the last word.

    Tam, thank you very much.

    Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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