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Why the kerfuffle over DNC voter information matters

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton addressed the Sanders’ campaign breach of DNC voter data during the third Democratic debate. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Gwen Ifill to discuss why Martin O’Malley hasn’t gained much campaign traction, political divisions on regime change in Syria, plus a farewell to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 2016 campaign.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    For more about all this, I'm joined by our Politics Monday panel, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and joining us tonight from New Hampshire, Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Tam, you're on the trail, so we're going to start with you.

    Let's start by saying farewell today to Lindsey Graham. What did he or not bring to this race?

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    Lindsey Graham was the hawkish candidate on defense. He also was in favor of immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, which is — what he was selling is basically not what primary voters were buying on the Republican side this time around.

    And I just have a quick story from New Hampshire, from — about a month ago, I was here. And I was here to cover a Donald Trump event at this hotel, and the line to get into that event was winding around the hotel. And then I walk into the hotel restaurant, and Lindsey Graham is sitting alone in the restaurant basically surrounded by a line of people going to see Donald Trump.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I had something like that happen with George~ Pataki once. I saw him sitting alone in a restaurant in the middle of a big moment.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    But that sort of sums it all up, doesn't it?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It does.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right? The candidate who came into the race to be the candidate that at least is not going to be the nominee, but at least he wanted to inject these issues into the debate.

    Now, to be fair, we're talking a lot about immigration and we're talking a lot about national security, but not necessarily in the ways that Lindsey Graham would like Republicans to be talking about them.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Or perhaps he has a couple of supporters in North Carolina who can be of help to other candidates.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Absolutely.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's talk about the debate, that interesting moment where, Amy, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton kind of kissed and made up.

    What was that?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

    Well, I think it was a very smart decision for Bernie Sanders' campaign to stop this controversy before it even began. This started late on Friday, where the DNC said, we're cutting off access to the Bernie Sanders campaign to our joint voter file database because there is evidence that his campaign accessed Hillary Clinton's data and may be holding on to it right now.

    There was a kerfuffle. Got a little dramatic. They since have worked things out. It's not completely over at this point, but I think it was smart for the Sanders' campaign, which is — and Sanders himself, who positioned himself as honest and authentic, and just come right out and say, listen, I apologize, it's not who we are. Let's go talk about the issues that we know he wants to talk about, income equality.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, Tam, let's talk about what the distinction between what the candidates say and what their staffs say, because there was some really harsh rhetoric being exchanged among the staff that wasn't as sweet and apple pie as what happened between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on stage.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Absolutely.

    That harsh rhetoric was in full force in the spin room before and after the debate. And, in fact, just because the candidates out on stage said sorry and I accept, more or less, just within the last hour, I got an e-mail from Sanders' campaign manager, a new statement, calling on the Clinton campaign to support that independent review.

    So, the Sanders' campaign isn't really letting this go, and I think this Clinton campaign isn't really letting it go either. And the remarkable thing about the Sanders campaign is that campaign got access to and took data that wasn't theirs and they have remarkably turned it around and made it the establishment, the Democratic National Committee trying to keep Sanders down.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let me ask you, Tam. What's true and what's not and does it matter? It's a pretty obscure fight.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    It's an extremely obscure fight. Most people didn't even know that this voter file existed. And even fewer people have any idea how it works.

    There is a very small select people that know how it works. But it does — the theft potentially of data does create this image of sort of cloak and dagger politics that we sort of imagine when we think of underhanded politics.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's like every bad movie you have ever seen about politics out of Hollywood.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, that is probably true. But it's actually more fundamental than that, which is, this is the voter information. This is the most important thing that any candidate has, right?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

  • AMY WALTER:

    And they all have something unique about what their strategy is to win these two states, especially Iowa and New Hampshire.

    And when another campaign sees your playbook, that can be very damaging.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    When this becomes a one-on-one fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, standing on the side there was Martin O'Malley, who seems to have a hard time getting any traction on the debate stage and off, Amy.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, there's not really a lane for Bernie Sanders.

    We started this campaign knowing a couple of things. The Republican electorate, what they wanted was very different than what the Democratic electorate said they wanted out of a nominee. Republican electorate said, we don't like Washington, we don't like the establishment, we don't like the idea of having another Bush necessarily.

    Democrats felt very different. They liked the idea of experience. They were very happy with a Clinton, another Clinton potentially in the White House, so not that easy lane there for Martin O'Malley. And he hasn't been able to capture the aspirational message, like Barack Obama did in 2007 and like Bernie Sanders has been able to do this time around.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tamara, both Republicans and Democrats have spent a lot of time in this campaign talking about America's role in the world. And on that — just on that point, there really was a distinction to be drawn between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and actually from the Republicans as well.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes, and also Martin O'Malley.

    Both O'Malley and Sanders came back to this idea a couple of times in the debate that Hillary Clinton, they say, may be a little too quick to support regime change. And O'Malley even mentioned Libya as an example.

    And then you take that to the Republican side, and Marco Rubio is more in favor of regime change and wants Assad out, where Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are less interventionist. So, there is a divide and it's a pretty interesting one.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It is interesting and it crosses parties.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's the thing. And it crosses party lines.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • AMY WALTER:

    It's not often that you say Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio agree on something, or — and this is even stranger — Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders agree more on the role of America in terms of foreign policy toward Syria than Hillary Clinton and the rest of the field.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Last debate of the year, finally. And as we get into the holidays, things kind of freeze in place.

  • AMY WALTER:

    They do.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, Tamara, what do you have a sense of is going to happen next? Or are we just waiting until mid-January, when everybody gets revved up again?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    I think it will be a little bit before mid-January, but, yes, I think that things do sort of freeze in place.

    And the real question for Bernie Sanders becomes, can he win New Hampshire? And that — the polls show it's close. And can he win Iowa? That's less close. He's going to be working very hard in both of those states, because they are critical to him making a case that he is a strong opponent to Hillary Clinton.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Amy?

  • AMY WALTER:

    And on the Republican side, I think going into the end of this year, Ted Cruz looks like the front-runner at this point. I would argue the person…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The person — well…

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes. I would say the person that is best positioned, how about that, to…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    To take down the actual front-runner?

  • AMY WALTER:

    To take down the person who is at the front of the national poll, yes, named Donald Trump.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You don't consider Donald Trump to be the front-runner?

  • AMY WALTER:

    I consider him to be a front-runner, but I do not consider him to be likely to be the nominee.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK.

    I have a challenge for both of you for the post-Christmas Politics Monday. Put on your Santa hats. You can put your Santa sweaters away. I know you planned to where them tonight. And tell us what happens during this little hammocked period between Christmas and New Year's.

    You don't have to answer me now. Going to come back to you with that again next Monday. Give you some time to think about it.

  • AMY WALTER:

    All right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Have a happy holiday, both of you.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Thank you.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Happy holidays.

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