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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the president’s campaign focus on ‘Trump country’

President Trump is ramping up efforts to turn out his base for the midterm elections. That’s meant rallies in deep red districts as opposed to winning over suburban moderates. Will the strategy work? NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report weigh in on Trump’s approval rating, latest midterm polling, and his recent comments on the migrant caravan.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From California to Texas, the fight for control over the House and the Senate is in full swing across the country.

    With just two weeks left until the midterm elections, the president is energizing his base, while Democrats continue to push for a blue wave.

    To get a sense of where things stand, it's a perfect time to check in with Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Didn't we just see you in that report on California?

  • Amy Walter:

    I know. I…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    … multiple places at once.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you manage to be everywhere at one time?

  • Amy Walter:

    Crazy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's talk about it.

    Tam, the president is not going to California, but he is out on the trail. He's covering as many states, it seems, as he can between now and Election Day.

    What's the strategy there? What do you see going on?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, I analyzed all of his general election trips, put them on a map.

    And he is going to either red states or states that are battleground states, will be battleground states again in 2020. Coincidence? Hmm.

    The other thing, though, is that he is…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    2020, not 2018.

  • Tamara Keith:

    That would be right.

    He is going to generally — for the most part, he's not going to these suburban swing districts. He's not going to blue states where there are Republicans who are potentially in trouble. He is going to states and areas of states that are Trump country, where he won with a large margin, where he's favored.

    For instance, he went to Elko, Nevada over the weekend. Elko is not a swing part of Nevada. That is a very red part of Nevada. And he was there because this is all about firing up the base. This is all about firing up Republicans, getting them to go out and vote.

    It's — that — that trip is not about winning over moderates.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So is this the way you win the midterms?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, he has banked from the very beginning of his presidency until now that his base is strong enough to overcome whatever the Democratic basis is. They love him. They're going to turn out for him, just like they did in 2016.

    He's replaying the 2016 campaign over and over again. What's fascinating to see in Nevada right now is you had Trump, as Tam said, up in Elko, turning out his base there, President Obama in Las Vegas, making sure that his types of voters — he talked a lot about in his speech today younger voters. Of course, you need to get Latino voters out in Nevada.

    In Wisconsin, we're going to have another example of what this election is all about. President Trump will be up in northern rural Ohio — I mean, Wisconsin — I'm sorry — small-town Wisconsin, the president, Milwaukee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So he's riling up the base.

  • Amy Walter:

    President Obama. Sorry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Obama.

    But — so, Tam, meanwhile, a new poll out today, NBC/Wall Street Journal, shows the president's approval rating moving up. It was 44 percent approval last month. It's now 47 percent.

    Is that something he can translate to Republicans running for office? I mean, can he say, here, here's my — a gift?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Here's my approval rating. It is the best it's ever been. It is still under 50 percent.

    It can't hurt. It certainly can't hurt these Republicans on the ballot to have President Trump in the best place he's been in his presidency, basically, in terms of approval.

    But these are — these are a bunch of different races in a bunch of different places. And although presidential approval tends to be a relatively good indicator, it's not the only thing that determines outcomes, certainly.

  • Amy Walter:

    But there's definitely a very strong correlation between how people feel about the president and how they're voting. And we have seen that in some of the special elections. We have seen this in the polling in these House and Senate districts.

    Listen, the president's stronger approval rating is really good for Republicans running in those very Trump-friendly states. This is where the Senate map begins to become very problematic for Democrats, in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana. They have to hold all of those states, trying to pick up other red states, like Tennessee and Texas.

    So, as the president's approval rating goes up there, harder for Democrats in the Senate races. But the numbers — this to me is the most fascinating piece of this. When I compared The Wall Street Journal poll that came out this weekend with the final poll — well, it was the exit polls — I don't want to get into the details here.

    But Pew also did their own survey of the 2016 voters. When you look at where the president sits right now, he's exactly where he is with — in terms of the approval rating of him overall and with almost every single demographic group.

    For example, among men in 2016, Trump won 52 percent of those vote voters. Today, he has a 56 percent approval with men. With women, he won 39 percent. He has a 38 percent approval. Now, white voters who have a college degree, 38 percent approval now, won them with 38 percent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it's holding.

  • Amy Walter:

    In other words — it's not just that it's even holding, Judy.

    We have gone through two years, which have been like this. And you would think, if you just look at this data right now, that nothing has changed since 2016. So what the president's banking on is that those numbers worked in 2016, right? He had those numbers in 2016. They won.

    But, as we noted in that previous piece from Yamiche, that's not where the battleground is this year for the House. The battleground is in the suburbs. And he's still toxic in the suburbs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So but — and 2020 is another subject.

    But, just quickly, one of the things, Tam, the president's talking a lot about is immigration, going after not just the wall, saying, we got to build a wall. But now he's going after this caravan of migrants from Central America making their way into and through Mexico toward the United States.

    Does this help him? How does this play as an issue?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, she talks about things that haven't changed since 2016.

    President Trump campaigning on immigration. President Trump using some of the very same language that he used in that speech when he rolled down the escalator and said, I'm running for president, and they send not the best people, they send drug dealers.

    He's using the very same language now at his rallies to rile up his voters. And polling would indicate, both a Pew poll and a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, that among Republican voters, illegal immigration is an incredible — incredibly salient issue. It is their number one issue.

    So he is talking to Republicans there.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, yes, but not necessarily independent voters, who still see the economy and health care as the top issues, immigration and terrorism much lower on their list of concerns.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, some things are the same. Some things have changed.

  • Amy Walter:

    Some things are a little bit changed.

    And he's not running against Hillary Clinton this time. It's a referendum on Trump, not a choice.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Though he does talk about her a lot in his rallies.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, he does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He does bring her up.

    The clock is ticking. Amy Walter, Tamara Keith…

  • Tamara Keith:

    Two more weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two more weeks. Thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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