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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s pandemic message, House outlook

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump’s and Joe Biden’s campaign strategies in battleground states, Vice President Mike Pence’s decision not to quarantine despite a staff COVID-19 outbreak and predictions for the balance of power in the House.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Believe it or not, we are a week in a day away from the polls closing on November 3, and, already, more than 60 million Americans have cast their ballots.

    Still, the campaigns are out delivering their closing messages to voters.

    Our Politics Monday team is here for analysis of the final sprint, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    Only two Mondays to go before Election Day. And as these days dwindle down to a precious few, Tam, we look even more closely at what the candidates are doing, where they're going.

    What do you make of their schedules, their travel, what they're up to right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    President Trump is going everywhere in the next few days.

    He's in Pennsylvania today, as you had in your piece earlier in the show, but he is truly going all over the place. He's going to Iowa and Michigan and Wisconsin and Nevada and Arizona.

    And what he is trying to do is mostly defend ground from the last election. You know, President Trump really narrowly won by creating almost an impossible scenario, and now he has to defend that.

    And, at the same time, Joe Biden is — he is not doing as many events, certainly, as President Trump. They have made a calculation they don't want him out as much, in part because — in large part, because of the coronavirus.

    But there are interesting things happening, like Joe Biden going to Georgia and Kamala Harris going to Texas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, as you look at the candidates' itineraries, what do you see? What does it tell you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I agree with Tam, in that the Trump campaign's playing a lot more defense and Biden's on offense.

    The fact that — and I looked at where the president was today in Pennsylvania. These are in those white working-class kind of areas that he did very well in 2016. But this close to Election Day, if you are all about just shoring up your base, that's a problem.

    This is the part of the campaign where you're getting in your last-minute sale to those final undecided voters or those handful of swing voters. You should be in those places right now, not just trying to make sure that the people that already do like you come and turn out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, pick up on that.

    And the message that we're hearing from the president is pretty much the same message he's been delivering.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I mean, I feel like Amy and I are sort of broken records on this.

    But President Trump's theory of the case here is that he's going to find new Republicans, he is going to find people who support him who didn't vote for him last time and get them out to vote with his amazing ground game.

    They say that, you know, they have this voter turnout operation, 2.5 million volunteers who made 10 million voter contacts in the last week. And they are going — really, they are going with a base plan. That is their plan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, I mean, I looked at one of the spots the president was at to visit today in Pennsylvania that you just mentioned, Martinsburg, population, I think, 1,000.

    Can he make up in the rural parts of the state the Biden advantage in the urban? I mean, how do you see that?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    That's kind of his plan, right, which is not necessarily to win back some of those — he's not there trying to win back some of those suburban voters in and around Philadelphia, but, instead, is going back to the small towns, rural areas that turned out in droves.

    But, remember, Judy, even though they turned out at record numbers, totally, for many, unexpected numbers, he — that only got him less than a percentage point victory in 2016.

    And what we have been hearing pretty consistently in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Michigan is that the president is not only losing by bigger margins in the suburban areas, but he's not doing as well as he did in 2016 with older voters, seniors, independent voters.

    Those are the voters that are going to determine this election.

    Now, look, the president does have a very good track record of, at the end of a campaign, coming in and firing his base up and ensuring that, at the very least, the floor does not drop out from under him. But in order to win these states, he has got to be able to make up some ground where Joe Biden has taken some of those votes away from 2016.

    And here's the other thing. Joe Biden has been going, actually, not just to the suburban areas, but he's also been up around the areas where Hillary Clinton underperformed the Obama number. And so he's trying to not just run up the score in the suburbs, but to at least lessen the margin by which he loses in some of these whiter working-class areas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, meantime, the vice president has been hit, his staff — five members of the staff have been hit with the coronavirus.

    He's still out on the trail. The doctors say he's testing negative, he's an essential worker, but does this send a good political message for him?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I mean, it certainly proves how essential they believe it is to have him out there campaigning, because, you're right, he — his chief of staff has tested positive for coronavirus. He's what's considered a close contact, and yet Vice President Pence is out there.

    We did see him campaigning in Minnesota. He wore a mask as he got off Air Force Two, which he hasn't been doing in the past as often. So, he is making some changes, because the CDC guidelines say, if you're returning to work as an essential working, you need to wear a mask at all times.

    You know, in terms of the message this sends, this is part of the big divide in this campaign. Kamala Harris took several days off the trail when people who weren't even considered close contacts, but had flown on her campaign plane, tested positive.

    The Biden campaign has made a calculation that taking coronavirus very seriously is part of how he's going to win this race. The Trump campaign and President Trump and the vice president have made the calculation that saying that America is turning the corner, saying it's going to get better, it is getting better, don't worry about the numbers — the president has started saying, cases, cases, cases, in the way he used to say Russia, Russia, Russia.

    Their calculation is sort of to ignore the coronavirus, pretend it isn't there, and talk about the economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, in the time…

  • Amy Walter:

    You know…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead, Amy, yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    Well, Judy, a while back, a Republican strategist gave me a very good line that I use often at moments like this. And he said, you can't win on turnout if you're losing on message. And the president is trying to boost turnout.

    But the message on the coronavirus is not where the rest of the country is. A lot of Republicans do believe the corner's been turned, do not think it's serious, but the majority of Americans are still worried about getting the coronavirus, and they disapprove of the job that the president is doing on the issue.

    So, the fact that this is front and center in the last week of the campaign is not a great thing for this president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Little bit of time we have left, Amy, I just want to ask you about one thing the president is reported to have said this week to a group of donors.

    He said he thinks the Republicans are going to retake the House of Representatives, although he's less sure about the Senate. What about that?

  • Amy Walter:

    No.

    (LAUGHTER)

    In fact, it's more likely than not that not only do the Democrats keep the House, but they could increase their numbers by more than 10 seats.

    And where Republicans continue to lose seats are in the suburbs in places like Texas, Indiana, in and around sort of midsized cities like Saint Louis and Cincinnati. So, the House is not in play this year. And, in fact, Democrats are likely to increase their numbers there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reality check all the way around.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, last seven days to go.

    Thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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