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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s return to rallies, Senate races in play

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 return to large, in-person rallies after his COVID-19 diagnosis, the Trump campaign’s strategy for appealing to voters beyond his base and which Senate races could be in play.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is a lot to unpack as we move into the final sprint before Election Day.

    So, let's turn to our Politics Monday duo. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, 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. A lot to talk about.

    Let's start, Tam, with the president. He has been saying he is free of COVID. And late this afternoon, his physician put out a statement saying there are tests that they have done that indicate, they say, he says, that the president is no longer shedding the virus.

    So, we will take that at the word of the physician.

    But, meantime, the president is already out on the campaign trail, Florida today, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina this week. A lot going on. What does his schedule say to us?

  • Tamara Keith:

    His schedule says that he is making up for lost time.

    And what his campaign has said is that you can expect him to add more and more and more events, doing multiple events in a single day, as the election gets closer.

    President Trump, it is as if he spent 10 or 11 days off the trail and had coronavirus, and was in the hospital, and all of those things, and then he feels better and he is going back, and the campaign is running things exactly the way they did before.

    These rallies, the one that is happening in Florida, not socially distanced, many people not wearing masks. President Trump, as he boarded Air Force One, wearing a mask.

    And in a relatively new campaign ad that they have out now, they are saying that President Trump has recovered from coronavirus, and America can, too. That is the message that they are delivering.

    And it is not clear that that is the message that America wants to hear, that everything is OK and back to normal, and get together and don't socially distance, but that is the message that they're delivering.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, what about these rallies? I mean, the president clearly loved them in 2016. He loves them this year. How much are they helping him?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Judy, I don't know.

    I don't know. It's the last three weeks of the campaign. His opponent is Joe Biden. But the person he's really running against at this moment seems to be Dr. Fauci, who came out today, Dr. Fauci did, saying: I don't think these rallies are a good idea.

    Even if this isn't as much about the president's sickness as other people in the audience who, as Tam points out, aren't masked, are close together, they could be getting sick. And we have seen a spike in cases all over the country, as we know.

    So, as the president moves along, doing more of these rallies, puts more at risk, Dr. Fauci is much better trusted on the issue of COVID than the president. And I don't think that's where — that's going to do the president all that much good.

    But, as Tam said, this is — this is his comfort zone. He loves to be out in his — with his folks, the people who like him, who are cheering for him. That's not his problem right now. The reason he's trailing in the polls isn't because his base isn't behind him. He's losing right now because he has never expanded his base, to include people that didn't vote for him the last time around.

    And what we have seen in some recent polls out this week, and over the weekend, is, where the president really has fallen behind are for people who voted third-party last time, so they didn't vote for Hillary, but they didn't vote for Donald Trump either, and voters who didn't show up at all in 2016, those voters, that — those two groups of voters, breaking to Joe Biden right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, Tam, the Trump campaign surely must see this. And yet they persist with this base strategy.

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's the case. They are absolutely doing the base strategy, as they have all along.

    In a way, it's — this is how President Trump feels like he won last time. And so he's running the same play. He's using the same playbook. And in a call with reporters today, his campaign officials were going back over the numbers from 2016 and trying to convince reporters that the president, trailing in the polls, is going to win anyway, and that everyone will look really dumb when he does.

    One little tiny detail that gives you a sense of how they are playing to the base, the Trump campaign is saying that, although they are doing some local and state ads, a lot of their ads are national ad buys.

    I was talking to someone from Ad Analytics, which is a tracking firm. And he said that, since September, about 40 to 50 percent of their national ad buys in any given week is on FOX News. You're not going to find new voters on FOX News. Those people voted for the president last time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    All right, let's talk quickly about Senate races.

    Amy, we are seeing action, activity in some states where we didn't think there was going to be a competitive, or as competitive a Senate race, especially in South Carolina. What is going on?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, Judy, Republican incumbents right now are in trouble for two reasons, one, the president, and, two, cash. They don't have a lot of it.

    The president's numbers — and this is the problem for these Republicans — the president's numbers aren't just bad for him, but he is dragging candidates down with him down-ballot in all kinds of places. It's not just blue states or urban counties. It's in rural and small town and red states and counties.

    And so, as you pointed out, Judy, we're seeing states that are pretty dark red normally, like South Carolina, Montana, Alaska, Kansas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kansas.

  • Amy Walter:

    Those states are all in play right now. And Democrats are also benefiting, as I said, from money advantage.

    Their donors are fired up, small dollar donors who are writing checks to any candidate they can. A record-setting amount by Jaime Harrison, Democrat in South Carolina running against Lindsey Graham. He raised almost $60 million in one quarter. Never seen anything like it.

    I don't know that you can spend $60 million in South Carolina in three weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, well, we will…

  • Amy Walter:

    I'm sure he will be happy to try.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I guess — I guess we will find out some happy TV and radio stations and whoever — whoever gets that money.

    But, Tam, fill this out a little more for us. This has to have Republicans concerned.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Absolutely. This is — this is not the kind of scenario that they are looking for or hoping for.

    And just to give you a sense — and I don't know if this is a trend or a single data point that won't turn into a trend, but you had North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis essentially making the case that you need a Republican Senate to counterbalance a Biden presidency.

    That is not a case that you make if you think you're in a good spot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I don't think so.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I don't think so. That's a new one on the trail.

    But maybe we will hear more in the coming weeks.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, we thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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