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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on what 2020 Democratic voters want

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest entrants into the Democratic presidential contest for 2020, what’s important for contenders to prioritize at this early stage, initial fundraising numbers and how voters may be able to gauge candidate performance against President Trump by his reactions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Politics Report and the host of "Politics with Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio, and Tamara Keith of NPR. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

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

    So, we mentioned 10 candidates there, Tam. We may have left somebody out. Our apologies, if we did.

    Help us understand, what are the candidates trying to do at this stage of the campaign? It's late February.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    So it's early. There are important things to be done this early on. One is testing out your message, working on interacting with voters, figuring out who you are and why you're really running for president, to be able to answer that question, why are you running for president?

    And also they're out there trying to differentiate themselves, trying to find a way to rise up in what is already an incredibly large field, and likely growing.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it's so ridiculously early. I don't remember it being this crowded and this active this early, to have this many candidates going into places like Iowa and South Carolina, and to have the lines to get into some of these events snaking around the corner a year from the primary.

    It just goes to show you too how serious Democratic voters in those states, or voters who are interested in looking at these Democratic candidates, are.

    And Tam is right. I mean, you have — it's a little bit like spring training, right? You're trying out all your different pitches and seeing what works and what doesn't. But you're also really — it's because you have a wide-open field. There is really no obvious front-runner.

    Joe Biden starts off at the top of all the polls, in large part because he's the best known candidate in the field. There's no guarantee that his standing on top of the polls sticks once we get the whole field in place and the campaigns really start.

    And Tam made a point about everybody's trying to find their lane. Democrats are also trying to figure out, Democratic voters, what they want, right? Do they want the most liberal candidate? Do they want the candidate who's most likely to beat Donald trump? Do they want a pragmatic conservative, pragmatic progressive? Do they want to doer, a dreamer, as John Hickenlooper said?

    And there's everything and a lot in between for voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, are they differentiating themselves? I mean, this is a finding your way with a blindfold on kind of process, isn't it?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it is a little bit.

    But — so, Elizabeth Warren has done a couple of things to try to differentiate herself. She's put out some plans to — for various policy items that are — a wealth tax, also a child care plan. And she's talking about fund-raising and not taking money from big money donors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    At the same time, you have other candidates who are differentiating themselves on policy, but also just on sheer numbers, on their ability to raise money.

    Bernie Sanders just came out of the gate with this blockbuster fund-raising number. Kamala Harris had a big number. And also Amy Klobuchar had pretty solid first-day numbers as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, at this point, Amy, they don't know — Amy, what you both are saying is, they're testing the waters. They don't know which one of these is going to appeal the most.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    We have talked about this before, and I'm sure we're going to talk about it again. When you listen to primary voters right now, either in polling or talking to them one-on-one, this idea about somebody who can beat Donald Trump goes to the top of the list, ahead of everything else.

    Now, can beat Donald Trump or is most electable is in the eye of the beholder. As — I talked to one Democratic strategist who said, well, everybody thinks their favorite candidate is the most electable candidate, right?

    So, at some point — but this is what's going to be so unique about this election. The president himself is going to get involved in these primaries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You think? You think?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    You think so? Right.

    He will be live-tweeting these debates. And we have never seen anything like that. So, voters are actually going to get a chance to see how their favorite candidate really does match up with Donald Trump before we even — before they're the nominee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Really does stand up to him.

    And, Tam, I mean, this conversation, we heard a little — a little bit of that from Kamala Harris — are they Democratic socialists, where Bernie Sanders is? Are they completely the opposite of that? I mean, do they — do they need to differentiate themselves in that regard right now?

    Because the president is already pointing to all the Democrats and saying they're all socialists.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and President Trump has made it very clear that he would love to run against socialism, and not the way Bernie Sanders defines it or the way Democrats would define it, in terms of Medicare for all or some of these other social programs.

    He wants to run against red socialism. And he is — I mean, he's looking forward to it. And Democrats are still working on their answer. Bernie Sanders has been answering it for years. And other Democrats are trying to figure out how to, like, not repeat the word socialist, while saying what they believe in policy-wise or how to define socialism.

    One really fascinating thing is that younger voters tend to have less negative views about the term socialism than older voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Right.

    And, Amy, have — so have you heard Democrats come up with a formula that basically inoculates them against this Republican charge that you're all a bunch of socialists?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and there are also a bunch of Democrats who say, this attack on socialism just isn't going to work.

    You know, I remember back in 2016, when a lot of us, me probably, said, voters are going to be repelled by a Republican candidate like Donald Trump, who says the things he says about immigrants, who says the thing he said about Muslims, who says the things he said about women, who — actually, that didn't matter as much.

    In 2018 it was, Nancy Pelosi is the boogey-person, and we're going to push away voters from Democrats by using her name a lot, by attaching Nancy Pelosi to all these Democratic candidates to portray them as far too liberal and out of the mainstream.

    So, the best laid plans, these ideas about how you're going to position, but it goes to the heart of what really, I think, the White House strategy is for 2020, which is, it's not really about the president meeting the voters where they are in the middle. It's pushing moderate voters away from Democrats by calling the Democrats too out of step.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just 30 seconds left.

    And that gets exactly, Tam, to what I wanted to ask you both to answer very quickly. And that is, do we see the formation of what Trump's — President Trump's argument is going to be?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    This is the early stages of it. But when you hear him starting to say, finish the wall, instead of build the wall, that's 2020. When you hear him talking about socialism in the State of the Union address, that's 2020.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, absolutely.

    And hoping that he can still talk about a good economy and checking a lot of boxes off, which is why you're hearing about a China deal and North Korea this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I delivered on all those things that I said I was going to.

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct. Correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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