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NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including what’s at stake in North Carolina’s special congressional election on Tuesday, former Rep. Mark Sanford’s announcement that he’ll challenge President Trump in the GOP primary and the outlook for Congress, newly back from recess, to pass gun legislation.
Labor Day is behind us, schools have started and the political calendar is ramping up.
Lisa Desjardins fills in the picture.
North Carolina is the first hot spot, hosting President Trump tonight for a campaign rally tonight ahead of a special congressional election. And Congress is also back, with Democrats in the House shedding the spotlight on gun violence and impeachment.
That's plenty for our weekly Politics Monday roundup with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Tamara Keith of NPR and co-host of the "NPR Politics Podcast."
Ladies, it's Election Day tomorrow, just one special election, the North Carolina Ninth Congressional District.
Let's look at — there's two candidates running, Republican Dan Bishop. He's a state senator, also fiscal conservative, running against Dan McCready. He's a Marine veteran and also a former money manager. He's running as more of a moderate.
Amy, why are people paying such attention to this race? What does it tell you?
And people, the parties and the outside groups, are also spending a whole lot of money here. It's over $10 million that outside groups have spent in this race, you're right, for one congressional seat.
It's because it's symbolic. This is a district that the Democrat, Democrat, Dan McCready, lost very narrowly, but there was vote fraud allegations. The election was thrown out. This is the do-over election with a different Republican.
But, really, it's about, is Donald Trump still as strong of a force for Republicans in Republican-leaning districts as he was, let's say, in 2016? The president there trying to urge Republicans to turn out in a district that gave him 54 percent.
But recent polls from that district show that the president's approval rating there is now down to 47 percent. The race is within single digits. If the Democrat were to win here, if Dan McCready were to win here, it would — it would send a pretty big shockwave, that not only is a district that the president pretty handily carried in danger, but it would also say to Democrats, you better put North Carolina in play, and, Trump, you can't count on winning North Carolina again.
That would be a very big upset.
And this is a partially suburban district too around Charlotte.
It's partially suburban. It actually — it has — it has a mix of rural and suburban. And it is a decent test case of a Trump district and what happens there.
In a lot of ways, even though this is the last vote of 2018, it is the first vote of 2020. And a lot of people are treating it that way, including the president, who, as you said, is there holding a rally tonight.
And although he doesn't want to put too much of his political sway on the line, or he doesn't want to admit that he's putting a lot into this, he is putting a lot into this. The most valuable thing that a candidate and a president have is the president's time.
And he is dedicating his time by going down there, holding this rally, and hoping that he can declare victory in less than 48 hours.
The other interesting thing about this district, if a Democrat should win, it would be one of the most Republican districts held by Democrats.
We know that Democrats won a lot of seats in 2018. They netted 40 seats, but they were mostly in districts that Trump narrowly won or narrowly lost. There aren't many districts that he won by 54 percent or even 53 percent that Democrats hold.
So this would be one of the most Republicans.
To move the line.
Someone else trying to move the line, former Congressman and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who announced he is also a candidate for president.
Let's take a listen to what he said, why he's doing this.
Those people were core to the Republican Party and what it used to stand for. They haven't been talked to here lately. And the president said those concerns you have with regard to spending, they're out the window, we're not going to worry about them, the economy is great.
But I believe that they're still there.
He's talking about Republicans who are unhappy with the direction of the party, think this is not the party they recognize.
He's a complicated figure. He's got a complicated party.
But, Amy, is there a possibility of Republicans who don't like Trump actually breaking from him, going with someone like Mark Sanford?
It doesn't look like there's any opportunity — or possibility of Trump losing this nomination, or even any of the three candidates who are running right now getting much of the vote.
This is especially true in South Carolina, where they actually — the Republican Party canceled the primary there. And there are four other states where the primary has been canceled on the Republican side.
Just in the past few days.
Now, in 2004, when George W. Bush was running — running for reelection, about 10 states canceled their Republican primary. So this isn't all that new.
The interesting — really interesting thing, though, about Sanford is, he's running on this fiscal conservatism, right? The debt is too big, the deficit is too high.
This is something Republicans, right, we heard them talk about all the time during the Obama administration. And, in fact, if you look at what priority Republicans put on the issue of debt and deficit, it peaked at 82 percent in the middle of the Trump — I'm sorry — the Obama administration.
The Obama administration.
And since then, it's been going back down. So if you look at like the arc of it, of Republicans' concern, voter concern with debt and deficit, really high when the Democrat is in office, pretty low when George W. Bush's in office, pretty low when Donald Trump's in office.
And Bill Weld, and Joe Walsh, and Mark Sanford, they're all entering this knowing that they basically have no chance of winning the nomination and even less of a chance of becoming president of the United States.
But that's not their only goal. Sanford is clearly saying, like, I want to have a conversation.
He doesn't feel like the Republican Party has really had an internal debate about who they are since President Trump became president. Mark Sanford tried to have that debate when he was in Congress, and he started criticizing President Trump. President Trump endorsed his primary opponent, and then that person won, and then went on to lose in the general election to a Democrat, which was a pretty big surprise in that district.
So all of these candidate in part are either hoping to have a conversation or they are hoping to damage the incumbent. And incumbent presidents who have had primary challenges in the past, there is a history there of them going on to — and being denied a second term.
But it is hard to say that these three are at the same level as a Ted Kennedy or a Ronald Reagan or a Pat Buchanan in 1992.
So Congress is also back. I feel like we need to take a deep breath. I think things are going to start moving very quickly.
It started today, with House Democrats holding a news conference on guns. This is issue number one for them. And they invited to that news conference the mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley. There she is right there at the U.S. Capitol today.
Last week, you all did a great job of helping us understand we don't know where the president is on guns.
But let's talk about Congress a little bit. It seems like there are many members on both sides trying to coalesce around maybe expanding background checks, perhaps helping states with red flag laws that give law enforcement more power in emergency and crisis situations.
Do either of these stand a chance? They're very popular in polls with the American people.
Well, they stand a great chance in the House of Representatives, where Democrats are in power, and, in fact, well, they have already passed bills that do these things, essentially.
But on the Senate side, it's much more difficult. And Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he is not going to put up something for a vote that the president won't sign. And they don't yet know what the president will sign.
I mean, this is one of those issues that, again, if you're looking at this, if you're President Trump, you know suburban women are going to be very important in this election. This would be an issue to take and support to win those voters back.
But this is a president who's always been about his base and keeping them happy.
We still have a lot to watch.
Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.
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