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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on what’s at stake for Trump in 3 key governor’s races

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including the release of transcripts from the impeachment inquiry, what three upcoming gubernatorial races say about President Trump’s support, early polling in key 2020 battleground states and the waning distinction between local and national politics.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just how critical are those gubernatorial wins for President Trump, as he faces an accelerating impeachment inquiry back here in Washington?

    For answers, we turn to our Politics Monday duo. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith from NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    And welcome to you both.

    Before we jump into some of those governor's races and some other state issues, Tam, I just want to get your take on this.

    Because it was such a big news day when it comes to the impeachment inquiry, what have you pulled away from the depositions and what they mean for the larger process?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think today was all about how this really is becoming a more public process.

    These depositions coming out is a sign, another sign. Those four people who were called to testify, who were subpoenaed, who didn't show up, you know, the House committees are not calling four people to testify on a single day if they expect them to actually show up.

    They're now going through the list of people who they don't expect to testify, so that they can move it into the public testimony.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's a good point to make.

    OK. Let's jump back to what William Brangham was talking about right there. Take a look at this graphic really quick. These are three states that do have governor's races coming up, two of them tomorrow, one of them later this month. These were also Trump's strongholds in 2016. He won them by significant margins.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Why are these close gubernatorial races right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, there's a saying that all politics is local, and it is, until it's not.

    And now we are seeing now even local races become much more nationalized. It wasn't that long ago that places in the South had Democratic governors, had Democratic senators, had Democratic members of Congress, and were voting for Republicans for president.

    But we have seen now the distinction that voters make between voting for their local candidate and voting for the presidential candidate have completely disappeared. And people are now voting, sometimes even for really local races, like legislative races.

    In Virginia, there's an opportunity Democrats have to take control of the House of Delegates and the state Senate in Virginia for the first time since the mid-'90s. And they're going to do it by nationalizing politics in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Richmond suburbs and in and around the Newport News and Tidewater area.

    And so what we're likely to see after an election is the candidates who are in places that are not good at the top of the ticket trying to localize a race and those where the top of the ticket is popular, or where the party is popular, they try to nationalize it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, when you look at the three races, a lot of people are saying this is going to be a referendum on the president. Is it fair to look at that that way?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, certainly, some of the Republican candidates have tried to hug as closely to President Trump as they can.

    So, I mean, I think that if a Democrat wins in Mississippi or Kentucky, then that is really, really big news. If a Republican wins, that is kind of what you would expect.

    And President Trump, though, just like he did with the midterms, though the midterms was sort of a mixed verdict, he is going into these places and making it about himself, trying to sort of prove how he can boost turnout among his core voters and trying to send a signal with these races.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, you mentioned that Virginia legislature we should be keep an eye on. All 140 seats are up for grabs, right? They have seen a bit of move toward the blue in recent elections.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, in the most recent elections.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is that issue-driven? What's happening there that we should pay attention to?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it is a lot object the Trump effect.

    And as we're seeing in the suburbs all across the country, the suburbs that once voted Republican now moving toward Democrat, but the issue of guns is a very big one in Virginia as well and in suburban areas, where it's been a very — it's a top issue. Remember, it was down in the Tidewater area that you had a massive shooting not long ago.

    So, for the issue set, that would probably be it, but again it also merges quite nicely with the national issue divide between the suburbs and more rural areas over the issue of guns.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, Tam, when you look at where the president is going, where he thinks that he can make a difference, he was in Mississippi on Friday, right? He's in Kentucky today. He's going to Louisiana later this week. I don't believe he's been in Virginia. Correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I don't believe he has been in Virginia.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Though Vice President Mike Pence did campaign in Virginia.

    And, yes, President Trump is not the most popular figure in Virginia, so it makes sense that he's going in place where he can really boost turnout.

    In Virginia, particularly in these suburbs, where these races are coming down to, President Trump would potentially have the opposite effect.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's take a look some of the other — larger picture here.

    When you look at key battleground states, there were some fascinating numbers to pull out to focus at the state level, rather than the national polls we sometimes look at. But this was a survey — results from The New York Times and Siena recently that looks at key battleground states in 2016.

    You're looking at Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida. These were all places that were close in 2016. Three of them in particular, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, had a margin of victory for President Trump of less than 1 percent.

    And when you look at these states, there's something very interesting happening, because President Trump is very competitive there, which isn't necessarily reflected at the national level on those polls.

    But what is that divide?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, they're called battlegrounds for a reason, right?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    I think that's what we learned from these polls, that they pick the states quite well.

    They were the most competitive in 2016. They're going to be the most competitive in 2020. What's also remarkable is how little has moved between the 2016 election and now in terms of perceptions about the president and likelihood to vote for the president or for a Democrat.

    It still feels like we're locked in, in many ways, into 2016. But, look, those three key battleground states in the Midwest that had voted for Democrats for 20 years consistently, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the ones that you noted Trump barely won, they do have a benefit to the president, in that they have an above-average number of white voters without a college degree, over 50 percent in all of those states.

    And they continue — those types of voters continue to support the president by the same kind of margins that they did in 2016. At least that's what this one poll showed us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Tam, when we look even deeper at that survey at some of the hypothetical matchups, there's a much more interesting picture at play there.

    Tell me about that.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And I would — though I would caution that if we're looking at head-to-head matchups this far out from an election, that we shouldn't look too closely at head-to-head matchups this far out from an election, because it is a long way away.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's too early.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And a lot can change. It's just — it's too early.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So the fact that some of these are showing very close races between some of the top Democratic candidates right now, Biden, Warren and Sanders, vs. the national polls, where there are wider leads, wider margins there, you don't put too much weight into those right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I mean, it's just very early. I would defer to Amy, who is our polling expert here.

    But I just — I urge caution.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    No, we should definitely urge caution. And that's why you look at the underlying numbers, right, where Trump continues to do well with that same core constituency of voters, not doing well with the suburban voter, white suburban voter.

    So still watch out for that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When you look at these states, though, fair to say these are going to be central to President Trump's campaign moving forward?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Fair to say I'm going to get some frequent flyer miles going to these states in the weeks and months ahead.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tamara Keith and Amy Walter, thank you very much for your time.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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