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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Sanders’ Nevada victory

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including fears Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ideology is too far left for him to be the 2020 Democratic nominee, why the race is currently a “referendum on Donald Trump,” Nevada caucus results along racial lines and which moderate candidates could struggle to gain traction.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday.

    I'm here with the great Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and, also great, Tamara Keith of NPR, co-host of the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Ladies, let's talk about Bernie Sanders.

  • Amy Walter:

    Sure.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I think a very fascinating debate.

    On the one hand, there are some who say he is not the most electable, maybe the least electable of the Democrats. And they point to things like his "60 Minutes" interview this weekend.

    Let's play a clip. This is what Senator Sanders said about Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    It's unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, on the other hand, there are those who say he may be the most electable Democrat, and they point to things like polling of him up against Donald Trump, especially in some swing states.

    Let's look at two, for example, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Bernie Sanders beating Trump, in one case, beating Trump, Michigan, more than any other Democratic candidate.

    Amy Walters, solve this riddle for us.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Great.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Bernie Sanders, is he the most or least electable Democrat?

  • Amy Walter:

    So, right now, this race is a referendum on Donald Trump. Most voters are not keyed into the Democratic primaries, even though we are obviously spending a lot of time there.

    But how people feel about Donald Trump is how they say they are voting at this moment in time. You like Donald Trump, you are going to vote for him. You don't like Donald Trump, you are going to vote for a Democrat or say that you are undecided. Right?

    They don't have a sense yet of who these Democrats are. Eventually, they will. And if you are Democrats, you want the race against Donald Trump to look a lot like the race in 2018 — 2018 did in the midterm elections. Make it a referendum on Donald Trump and his policies, on what the administration has done or not done on health care, on the tax cuts.

    Those were very effective for Democrats. If, however, it becomes a choice between Donald Trump and fill in the blank candidate, it becomes much more challenging for somebody like Bernie Sanders, who has positions on issues that we know are unpopular.

    The Cook Report and the Kaiser Foundation went into a lot of those states that you mentioned, those Midwestern states, and we asked the question, how do voters feel about things like a ban on fracking, which Bernie Sanders supports, Medicare for all including no private insurance?

    Of swing voters in those states, those are very unpopular positions. So we know what that looks like. Candidates on the ballot in the districts who ran in 2018, they are now members of Congress, Democrats, are not aligning with Bernie Sanders either, because they know, the voters in their districts, they spent all of 2018 watching Republicans trying to tie them unsuccessfully to socialism and Medicare for all.

    With Bernie Sanders, it is a lot easier to tie them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, electability has always been sort of an amorphous thing, like — and Democratic voters…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And you can get it wrong.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And you can get it wrong.

    And there is a history of Democratic voters sometimes going for the most electable candidate, like John Kerry, who is not president of the United States and never was. Or President Obama at the time was seen as the risky pick, at least for a little while, until he wasn't anymore, and the party consolidated behind him.

    So, in some ways, it is hard to know. You know, a lot of the Sanders supporters and even other people who are running against him would argue that, no matter which of them ends up running against President Trump, they are going to say that that Democrat is a communist, whether it is Bernie Sanders or someone else, even though Sanders is a Democratic socialist.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Now, it is interesting you bring this up, because we do have five other Democratic candidates still — six, actually, I think, is the right number. But we have about five minutes left, which is why I am thinking of that number.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So I want to think about their potential paths, what they might need to do.

    And, Amy, I want to ask you first about former Vice President Biden. Does he have to win in South Carolina? If he does win in South Carolina, does he have enough to go next?

  • Amy Walter:

    What happens next?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, he needs to win in South Carolina.

    And then you look at the states coming up on Super Tuesday, a lot of them do have a demographic makeup that looks a lot like South Carolina, where African-American voters make up a significant chunks of the electorate.

    Texas, it's about 27 percent, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia. But he didn't do as well in Nevada with Latino voters. And they also make up a significant portion of the vote in places like California or Colorado and Texas.

    So, yes, doing well there, if he wins, it means it is because he did well among African-American voters, but just how well? Did he really blow the doors off, or did he squeak by? And I think that will tell us something.

    And the final thing about Biden is, remember, he doesn't have a whole lot of money. At the end of January, he only had about $7 million in the bank. We know he has obviously spent a lot of money since then. Does he have the juice to go into these Super Tuesday states that, by the way, are already voting? Many of these states have early vote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What a great segue.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Oh, yes, go ahead, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Just quickly, there are a couple things could prevent him from blowing the doors off and just completely dominating the African-American vote in South Carolina.

    One is Tom Steyer, who has also really bet his campaign on winning over African-American voters in South Carolina and has put a lot of money in and a lot of work in.

    And the other is Bernie Sanders, who, in Nevada, showed that he actually performed pretty well with black voters, and cut into what in theory should have been Joe Biden's lock on that part of the electorate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You were talking about money.

    Let's talk about the candidate with the money, Tam, Michael Bloomberg. He has not been on any ballots yet, doesn't have a single vote. What is his path exactly?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and in your package leading into this, he wasn't a moving picture. He was a still photo, because he's been preparing for this next debate, which is tomorrow night.

    And he needed to prepare for this debate, because the last debate was pretty bad, I think universally viewed as pretty catastrophically bad.

    So, he and Bernie Sanders are the only two candidates who truly have the resources to compete in every single Super Tuesday state, who have the organization on the ground. Sanders obviously is — his organization is more organic. It comes from small-dollar donations. And Bloomberg's comes from, he just keeps spending money. And he can keep spending money.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's sort of Bloomberg's do or die is Super Tuesday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And so his pitch is, all these other guys don't have the resources to compete against Bernie Sanders or against Trump. So, he has to actually win some stuff and show himself to be truly competitive. Otherwise, after Super Tuesday, this has been a wonderful adventure of spending as much money — he has already spent as much money as President Obama spent in his entire reelection on the air.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Wow. Amazing.

    I want to look at some pictures from this weekend of two other candidates, first of all, Elizabeth Warren in Seattle, Washington, drawing huge crowds, some 7,000 there you see. She seems to be having a moment with some of her supporters.

    And then Pete Buttigieg here in Virginia, in Arlington, also thousands of people.

    My challenge to the two of you — we only just over one minute left, I'm afraid to say — is to talk about Warren, Buttigieg, everyone else here in the race. What are their paths?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    So we are going into the most diverse states now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    And those candidates that you mentioned — look at Nevada, the most diverse state they have been in so far — only Elizabeth Warren broke into double digits with African-American voters.

    The rest of the candidates, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, were only able to get single digits. In these states where you have really diverse electorates, it is going to be really hard for them to get any traction.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And we're in a moment of a collective action problem, where all — every one of these campaigns has put out memos saying, wow, those other candidates in the moderate lane should really drop out.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Those other non-Sanders campaigns, gosh, that candidate should go.

    None of them want to go. None of them see themselves as part of the problem. But unless they can come together and figure out one standard-bearer, then Bernie Sanders is going to be able to continue racking up more delegates than the rest of them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, I don't want to go either, but our time is over.

    Thank you so much for joining us.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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