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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Iowa caucus countdown, Sanders vs. Warren

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including shifting poll numbers from Iowa that show strength for former Vice President Joe Biden, the withdrawal of Sen. Cory Booker from the 2020 presidential race, signs of animosity between Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and what President Trump is tweeting.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    To discuss all this, I'm now joined by our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Public Radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you. It is Politics Monday. There's a lot going on. We are just, what, 21 days from the Iowa caucuses.

    So, Amy, let's start with the polls.

    Friday, we had the poll come out, the Iowa Des Moines Register poll, with Bernie Sanders on top, a lot of conversation, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden kind of bunched several points behind him.

    But then today there's another poll, and we're showing our viewers the Monmouth poll that has Joe Biden on top with 24 percent, and then bunched behind him, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

    How do we read this? What is going on?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    You know, the best thing is to do at this point is to say, one of those four people could win the nomination, and no one should be surprised if election night if one of those four ends up in first place.

    The real question in my mind is, you know, who has the most to lose or who has the most to lose or gain by losing, right?

    And so if you are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, Iowa really is a sort of slingshot for you. They are all hoping that a win in Iowa is going to give them needed momentum to overtake the person who is leading in the national polls, which is Joe Biden, and to give them momentum going into New Hampshire, and maybe that's enough to undercut Joe Biden's lead nationally and in some of these states that come afterward.

    If you're Joe Biden, you can afford to lose Iowa, but you can't come too far back. Right? It's one thing being a close second or a close third, but if you're far enough back, then suddenly the debate become, OK, well, if Joe Biden flops, who's going to be able to come and take up that mantle?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and, Tam, we have — I mean, as we said, it is 21 days between now, and so who knows what could happen.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are we seeing the shape of this race or not?

  • Tamara Keith:

    We have pretty consistently seen those four people at the top.

    Now, there's been a lot of movement in that top pack, but, pretty consistently, they have been the top four. And the caucuses are this fascinating thing in Iowa, where, as you both know very well, they go to gymnasiums, they go to big rooms.

    And if a candidate isn't viable in that room, then people are persuading their neighbors. So second choice matters a lot in Iowa. And the fact that they are all so close and that so many voters say they haven't really decided and they could support other people, it just puts a lot of volatility into this race.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it means that whatever we're talking about for the next three weeks is going to matter. What we're talking about the week before voting matters a lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Are we talking about impeachment? Are we talking about Iran? Are we talking about health care? That can fit into one of those various candidates' wheelhouse, or something that's more of a problem for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More of a problem.

    Well, one person we're not going to be talking about is Cory Booker. He showed up, I guess, seventh in the Iowa poll, the Des Moines poll, sixth in the Monmouth poll.

    But, Amy, what do we know about what was behind his decision?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, what he said was behind it is what he has said sort of publicly all along, which was: I have had a lot of trouble raising the money that you need to keep a national campaign going.

    But I think what it really speaks to is how difficult it is to break through, even as a well-established political figure here in Washington, into a field that has — was so crowded, but with two really big names. Everybody knows who Joe Biden is, everybody knows who Bernie Sanders is, and what their brand is, right? You know what you get with Joe Biden. You know what you get with Bernie Sanders.

    Breaking through with your own unique message and identity is a lot harder than it looks. And this is what's really remarkable. Here we are, three weeks away from Iowa. We have a Democratic Party that is all about and their voters are women. They're women, voters of color, younger voters.

    And atop of the polls are three older white folks and three white men and only one woman.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the only one being Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar still trying very hard in Iowa.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in the meantime, all this is going on, Tam, you have this, I guess, sniping, you could call it, that is surfacing between Bernie Sanders and, on the one hand, a little bit with Joe Biden over his Iraq War vote, but then new sniping between him and Elizabeth Warren.

    Does that — what does that say to you about Bernie and Elizabeth?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I mean, there was a nonaggression pact. And it seems that the nonaggression pact has been broken.

    And I think it's not a coincidence that the sniping is happening right ahead of this last debate before the caucuses. This is a critical moment. And they're sniping at each other in relatively nice ways, mostly talking — the candidates themselves sort of talking about how they're disappointed in the other candidate's campaign, and how disappointing this all is.

    But it does point to the fact that Elizabeth Warren is a candidate who stands in the way of Bernie Sanders being able to completely consolidate progressive support. And if you look at the field, there's definitely a split. There are progressive candidates and there are more moderate establishment candidates.

    And if you add them up, they're about equal numbers. Bernie Sanders, as a candidate and a campaign, sees a path potentially to winning the nomination or at least gaining a whole lot of momentum. And Elizabeth Warren is someone who, more than any other candidate, stands in that path.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If they're going to distinguish themselves, Amy, they need to do it quickly, don't they? Soon?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And I think they have distinguished themselves. Clearly, people know who they are and what they stand for. The challenge is, they haven't been able to — as Tam pointed out, nobody's been able to really consolidate that sort of progressive wing.

    And so I doubt you're going to see a fight between them on the debate stage. It doesn't do either of them any good to get in a public fight there. But what you will see going into the caucuses is each of them trying to put the debate on terms — the debate of — not of the debate of the actual standing on stage, but what Democrats are talking about, is what they are comfortable talking about.

    Elizabeth Warren wants this to be a debate about the economy. Bernie Sanders would love to be talking about health care. And Joe Biden, of course, would love to be talking about experience.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one — one other figure who's not going to be on the debate stage is President Trump, Tam.

    But he is tweeting like mad and belittling. I mean, it's more than sniping, I think. He talked about — he made fun, basically, of Cory Booker dropping out. He calls Mike Bloomberg mini Mike Bloomberg. He talks about — he is still talking about Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas.

    Can the candidates just essentially ignore this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    They largely have been.

    President Trump has a nickname for everyone. He had a nickname for everyone in 2015-2016. I would say get used to the tweeting. It's going to continue. There's nothing that's going to change about it. He wants to be part of the conversation.

    He is injecting himself — trying to inject himself into the conversation. I mean, we're talking about him right now. Also, another sign of that, he has announced a rally the Thursday before the caucuses in Des Moines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We saw that.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Do we have time for one more thing?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No.

  • Amy Walter:

    No. OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're going to hold it until next week.

  • Amy Walter:

    Next week, I will make it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You can tweet about it.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's what I will do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tam Keith, thank you very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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