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Tamara Keith and Susan MacManus on what Florida’s midterms mean for Trump in 2020

Tamara Keith of NPR and Florida political expert Susan MacManus join Judy Woodruff in Tampa for a special Politics Monday. They discuss Trump’s strategy in the “Sunshine State”, his response to recent violence and voters’ concerns about the direction of the country.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now for a special Florida edition of Politics Monday, I'm joined here in Tampa by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith and Susan MacManus, who is a longtime political analyst in this state.

    It's great to have you both here with me.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Great to be here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tam, so you have been looking at the national map in this election season.

    But put Florida in context. Why does this state matter so much?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    I can tell you it does matter so much, because it's not just about 2018. It's also about 2020.

    And there are — there's this very competitive governor's race that matters a lot to President Trump, because who the governor of Florida is in 2020 will matter for that election.

    Of course, there's also this very competitive Senate race and a number of competitive House races as well, because Florida is this battleground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's a battleground, Susan MacManus.

    And, as you know from watching elections here, it's a state where elections are close. Tell us about that.

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    The last four big elections, two governor's races and two presidential, the margin of victory has just been 1 percent. There's no other state that is that competitive.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you were telling me this morning the changing demographics, the makeup of the voting electorate here is what's making the outcome here uncertain.

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    Definitely.

    So many people still think of Florida as a retiree-only state. But the real, real news this election cycle is the rise of the younger electorate. Fully 52 percent of our current registered voters are from the three youngest generations. That would be Generation X, the millennials, and Generation Z.

    They're not particularly interested in registering with either party. There are a lot of them registering as no party affiliation. And they are just up for grabs. They're very energized by someone who can talk to them about their issues and communicate and inspire.

    I like to say they're looking for new faces in high places. And they're kind of a wild card. If they show up, one candidate is going to win, if they don't, the other. That's how much clout they have this election cycle.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And much more diverse than the older generation here.

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    The older generations are largely white. The younger generation is largely minority. In fact, the youngest generation is a majority non-white.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tamara, President Trump is a factor in this election, no doubt about it. He's coming here.

    But you and I were just talking about the really divided messages they're sending.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Right.

    So, President Trump has two more rallies here between now and Election Day. He has one in Fort Myers and one in Pensacola. The congressional districts he's going to are not in play. These are solid red Republican districts, where he is going to go hold a typical Trump rally that is designed to fire up the base, where he talks about the caravan, and he talks about how terrible Democrats are.

    Then you have the Trump campaign announcing today — releasing this ad that it's going to run. President Trump isn't in the ad at all. And the ad is really aimed at these suburban white women, who have become a central focus of the midterms, and soft focus. And there's — there's a woman with her family.

    And President Trump is simply not present in those ads. Meanwhile, at his rallies, he's saying, I'm on the ballot. Even if I'm not on the ballot, I'm on the ballot. Vote for me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We heard the voters that I interviewed, Susan, earlier saying that the president is — people have strong feelings about him one way or another. How much of a factor do you think he is?

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    He's in practically every ad, maybe not that one.

    But everyone knows that this is sort of a referendum on the president. It's hardened Republican support for him, some who were wavering. And it's certainly hardened Democratic opposition to him.

    He is clearly a big factor. And his favorability is a little bit higher in this state than in some other places. So, surely, his last-minute appearances are designed to turn out the base, but particularly in Fort Myers, because that's an area where the environmental issues have been so bad, that some of the Republicans voted for his opponent in a — in the primary.

    So he's got to pull those people back on board.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As we get closer to Election Day, of course, so much of the news, so much of our attention is focused on the terrible events of the last several days, Tam, the horrible shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, before that, the pipe bomb. There was a shooting at a grocery store in Kentucky against two black Americans.

    As you talk to voters in the state and the candidates, how much of that division is showing up?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    The division is absolutely there.

    Voters — basically, Democrats think that there is something wrong with Republicans, and Republicans think that there is something wrong with Democrats. It is not just about policy anymore. It's very personal in the way that our politics have — have gone.

    Usually, after an election, you move on. 2016 isn't over yet. Those fights are still being fought.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Susan, again, you and I were having a conversation about how, for all the criticism of President Trump, the reaction even to these terrible crimes, hate crimes, is divided here.

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    It is very divided.

    And I think what I'm hearing from a lot of people I have spoken to is a sadness, sadness about the direction the country is in. And it's worrisome. And it is true that each side sees the other is more vitriolic than their own.

    But everyone, I think, is just grasping for some kind of reality and some kind of civility in politics. What we're watching here is, is this turn of events, this heavily violent way we're going, going to keep some voters from voting at all?

    We don't know that. Or will it energize? But I think, overall, I just hear the word, I'm really sad about America's direction.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    One thing that I'm going to be looking for in the next few days is, how does this affect the president's approval rating?

    The president's approval rating is often very much tied to midterm outcomes. His approval had been ticking up. But in the past, after events like Charlottesville last year, his approval took a real hit.

    And it's not clear whether his response to these events, where he has he has — he has said that anti-Semitism is wrong and needs to be condemned, then at the same time going to a rally and saying Hillary Clinton's name in a way, and the crowd starts chanting "Lock her up," is — is he going to be rewarded or punished by voters for that?

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    And even today, we have had a shooting into a Republican headquarters over in Volusia County.

    It just doesn't stop. It's so troubling to Americans.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's certainly cast a shadow as we get close to this Election Day.

    Tamara Keith, Susan MacManus, thank you both so much.

  • SUSAN MACMANUS:

    Thank you.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    You're welcome.

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