Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the end of primary season and midterm messaging

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including what's next for Republicans and Democrats as primary season comes to a close and they turn their midterm messaging toward the general election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Primary season officially comes to a close tomorrow, so Republicans and Democrats are turning their midterm messaging toward the general election, now that it's less than two months away.

    Here to talk about what comes next, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you. It's time for Politics Monday.

    So, Tam, I'm going to start with you.

    You just listened to Laura Barron-Lopez's report. Really interesting what's going on this season. Is this working? I mean, what is the calculus for this decision to do this?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Right.

    We have been watching this dynamic develop through numerous primaries as this year has gone along. Democrats are getting the opponents they want, largely. But be careful what you wish for. There were a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who wanted Donald Trump as an opponent. And they got Donald Trump as president.

    What is truly striking about this is, this is happening at a time when Democrats, most notably President Biden, are shouting from the rooftops about the risk that these candidates pose to American democracy, that the idea that people will deny election outcomes, that that is a danger to America, at the same time that some Democratic outside groups are boosting these candidates.

    Now, the argument that they would make is, well, we're just defining our opponents, and these people were going to win anyway. And it's quite possible those people were going to win their primaries anyway.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Possible. But there's a reward and a risk…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Right.

    So, the risk is — I think Tam laid it out really well. There's risk, one, of being seen as being incredibly hypocritical and cynical, which is promoting people who are doing the very thing that you say is the greatest risk to our society right now.

    And then the practical is that, yes, these candidates end up winning. But campaigns are graded not on those metrics. They're graded simply on whether you win or lose. And when it comes right down to it, their job, the job of a campaign consultant, campaign manager, is to win the campaign in any way possible.

    And when you know that the margins in these races are 1,000, 2,000 15,000 votes, where control of the Senate is literally one seat, Democrats are going to look for every opportunity they can. But it is hard, though, to take the moral high ground on issues like campaign integrity while — and the vice president was asking about this, this weekend — asked by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," do you think that or something — what do you think about this about Democrats going and promoting these very candidates?

    Her chance to step on the moral high ground, she did not take it. She said, well, everybody has to run their own campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, we did hear that.

    And, Tamara, we heard — as we heard in Laura's report, I mean, for some of these candidates, even if they don't win, if they don't succeed in getting them chosen as the nominee, they could live to run for other races. They're going to live long — have longer political lives.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly, running a statewide or even a just a congressional district race raises your profile. Your ideas are out there on TV in ads. They're out there in debates that your — your ideas are being written about.

    And, sometimes, these campaigns create celebrities.

    That said, we haven't heard a lot from Todd Akin or Mourdock in Indiana. Like, they're — some of these candidates just quietly disappear. But, also, that was a different time. It's not clear that people will quietly disappear or even admit that they lost if they lose.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    So, Amy, as we pointed out, this is getting close to — closer to the general election.

  • Amy Walter:

    It is.

    See also Tomorrow's the last primary day.

    What are we hearing or what are you seeing from the two parties in terms of their candidates' messaging right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, two things that I'm watching for, first, New Hampshire.

    This was a state that, very early on, Republicans thought was going to be one of their best pickup opportunities. They have a popular Republican governor in Chris Sununu. He decided not to run. Now, he says it's because he didn't want to come to Washington. But I think that his relationship with Donald Trump also was quite tenuous, and he probably didn't want to have to deal with that sort of relationship.

    Now, Republicans still think they have a great chance there, but the possibility of a weaker candidate. A candidate who Sununu at one point said was a conspiracy theorist could end up winning, so that would be problematic for Republicans and yet another opportunity lost, potentially. Now, they could still win, but a much more challenging candidate for Republicans than the other one.

    I get ads in my e-mail box. I'm sure you do too every single day. And I went through a bunch of them before I came on air. And you know what. It's not that surprising, but Republicans continuing to lean into the economy and inflation and Biden. Yes, things are getting a little bit better in the economy. Gas prices have gone down. The pinch of inflation, consumer say, is not quite as strong as it was earlier. But it's still a very big deal.

    Democrats really leaning into the issue of abortion, especially in these swing states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are you seeing in this messaging? And are you seeing any shift, given the shift that we seem to be seeing in the polls?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, what you definitely see is that Democrats are not afraid to talk about the abortion issue. I think that, in past cycles, Democrats have sometimes been afraid of leaning into what you might call culture war issues or cultural issues.

    In this case, Democrats are trying to create a narrative that it isn't just this abortion right, but it's other rights that you care about, and also that the people who support those ideas are extreme. That is the message that they're going with.

    Of course, that gets to the idea that they want this to be a choice. They don't want it to be a referendum on Joe Biden. They don't want it to be a referendum on Democrats or inflation or immigration or crime. They want it to be like, hey, America, do you really want to go back to four years — to years ago? Do you really want some of these more extreme ideas to be the mainstream?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, I mean, are you — are we seeing — I mean, Amy, you're not seeing a shift, is what I hear you saying, because that's — economic — the economy is what Republicans have been…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    The economy is still what they're — now, we are going to see, in individual races, they're going to talk about issues, immigration, especially on the Southern border, so races in Arizona, New Mexico. Crime is also going to be an issue.

    What's interesting is watching Republicans on the issue of abortion. It reminds me a lot of where Democrats were on the issue of defunding the police or reducing funding for the police, where Republicans really put Democrats in this awkward spot, where they wanted to stand with racial justice supporters in their own party. At the same time, they wanted to talk to swing voters and assure them that they were going to be tough on crime.

    And they didn't do that particularly well in 2020. What you have seen since then is Democrats coming out and proactively talking about their support for law enforcement, Republicans have gotten caught on abortion in that same place. They haven't quite figured out, how do I keep my base happy by saying, yes, indeed, my pro-life positions are still my pro-life positions, but also talk to moderate swing voters and say to them, I'm not the extremist that my opponent says I am?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there is — but they are — we are seeing Republican candidates, Tam, adjust their — not all of them, but some of them adjust their language.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Or scrub their Web sites of abortion, or not make it part of their stump speech, or generally just not talk about it very much.

    You would think that here's this huge victory. It's something that Republicans have been fighting for, for a really long time, certainly that the base has been fighting for, for a really long time. But now they don't really want to talk about it because it's become uncomfortable.

    And the reality is that the polling indicates that people, the American people, the majority of Americans do support some abortion access, some abortion rights. You get into the nitty-gritty, and it gets more complicated.

    But in a lot of these states, it is no access at all, which sharpens the contrast.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question.

    And two months to go, and we will see what may shift and move between now and November.

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both, Politics Monday. You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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