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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on primary challenges, polarized pandemic response

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including how the 2020 Democratic presidential race has changed amid the coronavirus pandemic, the challenge for state election officials trying to hold primary contests and the stark American political divide over the outbreak and President Trump’s handling of it.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To dive deeper into the primary race and how things are being impacted by coronavirus, I'm 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, co-host of the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Our eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed a new configuration with me here, some social distancing from us tonight, ladies. It's important for everyone.

    Let's start with tomorrow.

    As we reported earlier, four states were supposed to vote tomorrow. Let's look at the map for which ones those are. We're talking big states here tomorrow, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and Arizona. One of them, Ohio, will not be voting in person tomorrow.

    Without Ohio, 441 delegates at stake. There are other changes that will be in effect tomorrow as well in the states that are continuing to vote. Some of those include polling places closing in Maricopa, Arizona, due to the coronavirus, as well as dialing back especially on polling places that are in senior living facilities.

    Amy, how do you reckon with the two risks we see right now, a risk to voters if they do vote, a risk to democracy if they don't?

  • Amy Walter:

    If they don't. And also to poll workers.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Many whom are older who work these polls.

    Look, I think everybody is sort of taking this as a moment-by-moment experience. So, obviously, some states felt like they couldn't — they didn't feel comfortable holding a primary knowing that the public health wasn't being protected.

    But then I think we step back a moment and we say, thinking about the Democratic primary, what's going to happen tomorrow, what should happen going forward, look, we were on the set on the last election night, where it was pretty clear that Bernie Sanders was falling far behind.

    He needs at least 60 percent of all the delegates now going forward in order to catch up to Joe Biden and get enough to be the nominee, actually surpass Joe Biden, to be the nominee. He's sitting at the polls right now somewhere around 30 percent nationally.

    And in the polls out of Florida and Arizona, he's down 30, 20 points. It's not going to happen. So, really, the question is, when the election is over on Tuesday night, will Bernie Sanders still be in this race, or will he decide that now is the time to move on?

    We thought maybe the debate was going to be the place where he backed off. Obviously, that didn't happen.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's two things happening. Bernie Sanders, is it the effect of the results of the election so far or this crisis that makes his path tougher, or both, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith:

    His path was tough before this crisis was totally obvious. Super Tuesday was really not good for him.

    But I do think that there was an inflection point last Tuesday, and what happened is, they canceled their events. This campaign, everything changed last Tuesday, when this got real.

    And, in fact, it was Ohio that made it get real, because Ohio said no gatherings.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meaning the coronavirus, yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. No, the state of Ohio said no large gatherings.

    And, all of a sudden, these two campaign events that were supposed to happen in Ohio didn't happen. The candidates flew east and have really, in a lot of ways, have been taking stock ever since.

    And Bernie Sanders didn't have a good night last Tuesday night. He said as much the next day, when he finally spoke to the press. I mean, I think that, you know, when we look back on this primary, you know, a generation from now, we will probably forget about Super Tuesday and we might forget about a lot of other things, but we're going to remember coronavirus and how, in some ways, this primary is now locked in amber.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, the governor of Ohio said he was moving not — postponing the election to June, but admitted that he thought September would have been a better date, but picked June because…

  • Amy Walter:

    Of the…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … of the nominating process.

    The conventions are in July and August. Is there talk about what happens if we can't have the conventions?

  • Amy Walter:

    There's not been public talk.

    But, clearly, these are the things that campaigns and the people who run these conventions think about all the time, what to do in case of an emergency. There are processes in place.

    I also want to point out that there are other campaigns that are happening now, too. People are running for Congress, for state legislature, for the Senate. And their campaigns have also been locked in amber, as Tam said.

    Trying to — you can't do big fund-raising, in-person fund-raising event, obviously not door-to-door, getting your volunteers together to put mailers out to your constituents.

    And at a time when the economy is looking as fragile than ever, asking donors for campaign contributions is also going to be tough. So — and this is Democrats and Republicans. This cuts across the entire swathe.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One thing about the partisanship that I thought was surprising, we're seeing some differences in opinion about this crisis, depending on what party you affiliate with.

    This is a poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal from this week. They asked people if they thought their family member was — they're worried about their family catching coronavirus; 68 percent of Democrats said yes, 40 percent of Republicans.

    Now, this could also be a regional effect. More Republicans live in rural areas, for example.

    But, Tam, what do you make of this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There's another factor, which is that, until today, President Trump has, at time — at most times, sort of downplayed or said, everything's going to be fine, or, we have got this under control.

    He has been out of sync with some of the health professionals. And he's been out of sync with the media.

    Today was a very different President Trump. And so for the voters who listen to him and don't trust the media, then, for the last month, the media has been overreacting, and the president has been saying what he's been saying.

    And I think that that does affect public opinion. Well, now the president today said, oh, well, maybe the media has been doing a good job, and also laid out some very stringent, serious steps for the American public to take to keep everyone safe.

    And it was — it was a major moment.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think that's exactly right.

    Let's watch and see, now that the president has taken a different tone, where the — what those numbers look like in a week.

    Look, this polarization is a way of life in our country. And I have always been worried that what will happen in a crisis is exactly what's happening right now, which is, instead of pushing us together, it's keeping us very separate from where we decide to get our sources of information, who we trust and who we don't.

    All we can hope right now is if — with everybody on the same page, that we can kind of come to an agreement on how terrible this is.

    And, unlike something like 9/11, which was a tragic moment that happened all at once, this is a slow-rolling potential disaster.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, everyone's lives and jobs are getting more difficult, including yours.

    So, we really appreciate both of you.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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