Biden Up On Trump In Florida : The NPR Politics Podcast NPR's 2020 Battleground Map

The latest NPR analysis of the Electoral College has several states shifting in Biden's favor, and he now has a 297-170 advantage over Trump with exactly three months to go until Election Day.

This episode: campaign correspondent Asma Khalid, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Three Months Until The Election. We've Updated Our Battleground Map.

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Three Months Until The Election. We've Updated Our Battleground Map.

Three Months Until The Election. We've Updated Our Battleground Map.

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/657910799/898703785" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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SHREIS: Hi, I'm Shreis (ph). I'm from Mountain View, Calif. I'm 7, and during this pandemic, I've created my own government. I was elected president after a Zoom televised debate against my mom, who is now my VP.

VISHAL: And I'm Senator Vishal (ph), aka Shreis' dad.

RABICA: And I'm Rabica (ph), Shreis' aunt, but you can call me speaker of the house.

SHREIS: This podcast was recorded at...

(LAUGHTER)

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

2:09 p.m. on Monday, August 3.

SHREIS: Things may have changed by the time you hear this.

SHREIS, RABICA AND VISHAL: OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KHALID: (Laughter).

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: That is amazing.

KHALID: I love that.

MONTANARO: I have a 7-year-old daughter, and she's great, but she's not running for president today - maybe someday.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: So I am really excited about today's show because just this morning, we published a new NPR electoral map analysis, which, by the way, if you all haven't seen it, it's up on our website, npr.org, and you can kind of geek out there and see what seems to be the electoral sway at this particular moment. You know, Domenico, you - this is your baby. You have designed these electoral maps. And we've talked about the first iteration you had out before about a month and a half ago, but there's been a shift with this new map, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Last time we had this map out, you know, it looked similar to the 2016 battleground map. And this time around, things have really shifted. And what we have - what we've seen is - Colorado, we've moved from lean Democrat to likely Democrat because of how the polls have gone there and because of Biden's strength in the suburbs. Pennsylvania has gone from toss-up to lean Democrat; New Hampshire also toss-up to lean Democrat; Nevada, same thing, to lean Democrat. And the big one, Florida, we've moved from toss-up to lean Democrat. And Georgia we've moved from lean GOP to toss-up. But, of course, Florida is a big one because that puts Biden over 270 electoral votes. He's up to 297 electoral votes with all of the states that lean toward him. Trump's sliding, slipping down to 170 only, so he's got a lot of work to do.

KHALID: Oh, wow.

KEITH: Domenico, this is just a snapshot in time of this time. And your article goes into sort of the ways that it could change, but at this moment, this puts the president in a very big hole headed into reelection.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I think we shouldn't be surprised that Biden is over 270 right now because this looks to be the political nadir for President Trump. Of course, I said that in late June when we first did this, and it's gotten deeper for Trump, which is kind of surprising, but because of his handling of the coronavirus and race relations, things have shifted. And this is not just based on polling. This is based on historical and demographic trends, as well as what we're seeing on the ground there.

KHALID: So, you know, before we get into the some of the specifics from the analysis, Tam, I want to ask you about what the Trump campaign has been thinking recently. I mean, obviously, they are aware not just necessarily of Domenico's maybe electoral map analysis but of overall broad polling that shows them in a precarious situation. And recently, the campaign paused some of its ad spending, it seems, to rethink some of its messaging. What's going on?

KEITH: Yeah. They pulled all of their ads off of television last week as they retooled and sort of thought about their strategy going forward. In part, that's - they say it's because there's a new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who replaced Brad Parscale as campaign manager. And so, you know, it would make sense for a new campaign manager to want to think about how they're doing it. What they say they're doing now is being more strategic about the states that will be voting sooner rather than others. You know, we think of Election Day as a day, November 3, but, in fact, absentee ballots are going out pretty soon in a number of states. So the Trump campaign is going back up on the air this week with ads targeted at just a handful of states - North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona. And I think those are states that we will be talking about because they're pretty key in the map that Domenico has put together.

What's interesting is the campaign is saying that they're focusing on those states because they will be getting ballots early. Well, other states, other very important states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, are also getting ballots, even before some of those states. So it kind of seems like the Trump campaign is just trying to say that they're focused on early voting when, in reality, they are focused on states that in a different universe wouldn't even be swing states for them, that should be easy states for Trump but aren't.

MONTANARO: Well, those states should at least lean in his direction. And I think that's what's been most surprising is they haven't been able to really go on offense because of what we've been seeing really where it starts at the top with President Trump. The way he talks about race and the way he talks about the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of a unified national response have really hurt him. And those are fundamental things that, you know, unless he shifts course on those things, it's going to make it very difficult for Republicans to get out the vote in the way that they want to because of how badly hurt he's been with these numbers because of how he's governed.

KHALID: All right. So let's look in more detail at the map, and, you know, selfishly, I'd like to begin with Florida. You all know I was in Florida all last week doing some reporting. And, Domenico...

MONTANARO: We did that on purpose.

KHALID: (Laughter) I know, right?

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: And I will say, though, I found Florida perhaps the most unusual and intriguing move that you had in your map because you moved it from a toss-up state to one that leans Democratic.

MONTANARO: Yep.

KHALID: Explain that to us.

MONTANARO: You know, this was a very, very difficult choice because Florida has been, you know, the closest state or among the closest states, you know, in recent elections. I mean, we all remember the 2000 election and the hanging chads. And, you know, every election, it just seems to be very close. Also in 2018, they really went against the blue wave and elected a Republican to the Senate, a Republican governor. So for me, I start off with the idea that Florida should be a lean Republican state, frankly, in this presidential election. And to watch what's happened with the polling there and to watch the continued demographic shifts, it's just undeniable that right now - right now - this is not to say that this is where things are going to wind up. But right now, Joe Biden has the edge there. He's - in polling, he's at or above 50% in a lot of polls and holds a significant high single-digit lead. And, you know, I don't think you can sit there and say that really that's a toss-up at this point.

KHALID: Domenico, I want to ask you, though, if you feel like Florida could easily tip back because one of the things I heard while I was down there was this understanding from analysts that the Republicans, you know, are really good, they say, at finding votes where they need to find them. And that's what they did in 2018, and so that's, they say, how they won. They may not win the suburbs. Say, they may not win urban areas, but they went to these exurban communities, these more rural places, and they found the votes. And it surprised some Democrats.

MONTANARO: I think the thing to really pay attention to if you're looking at polling is the fact that Biden's top-line number hasn't really moved all that much. You know, the end of March, Biden was at about 49- or 50% on average in Florida. Today his average in the FiveThirtyEight average of polls is 49.8%. President Trump, on the other hand, was at about 48% in March, and now he's down to 43.9-, 44%. So where is this vote coming from? It looks like a lot of independents who might lean Republican who might be looking for a reason to vote for President Trump, who, right now, don't want to say that they're voting for him because they don't feel like they want to. So they've shifted into an undecided position. If President Trump can look like he's even marginally handling some of these big issues a little bit better, he might win some of those folks back, which is why the Biden campaign feels like this is going to tighten up, you know, and might do so very quickly after Labor Day.

KHALID: All right. And we will talk more about those dates when we get back. But first, let's take a break.

And we're back. And, Domenico, your map describes a few states that you still see as toss-ups - North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin. Kind of explain why it is that these states are still toss-ups? And, you know, is there one in particular that stands out to you?

MONTANARO: Yeah. We even have Ohio in the toss-up column, which, you know, I think a lot of people...

KHALID: That's interesting, yeah.

MONTANARO: ...Would have probably looked at and said, you know, even last cycle, it's an aging state. It's a whiter state. It looks like a place that Trump should win. So a place like Ohio, Arizona, Georgia - if those places are in the toss-up category, you see which way the winds are sort of blowing. You know, one state to really look at here - Wisconsin. You know, this is a state where Biden's lead has kind of expanded a little bit as far as the polling goes. You know, it's one that we're sort of watching. And if you had to give a tip of the scale, right now, I think you would push it a little bit toward Biden's direction.

The problem that I felt in looking at this state was it's the most conservative of the three blue-wall states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In other words, it has gone more Republican, you know, by percentage than in other years. There's more Republicans there. And their suburbs, when you look at the demographic change, have not diversified the way a lot of other suburbs have in a lot of other states. So it's one that we're definitely watching. But I'd like to get more on-the-ground reporting there before feeling comfortable moving it in Biden's direction.

KEITH: You know, one thing that stands out to me about these states that are in the toss-up category is that in 2016, they were not really in the toss-up category. They were the - you know, when Hillary Clinton went to Arizona, it was like, oh, my gosh, what is she doing? She's overreaching. Well, now we're talking about Arizona as a real toss-up or Georgia. You know, there's talk that those Senate races in Georgia could be competitive, that it isn't a guarantee that a Republican would win those Senate races. Or North Carolina - same with the Senate races and obviously that the presidential is basically - overlaps with that. It's just remarkable to think about states that were not considered super-competitive, even if we said they were swing states, are much more competitive this time.

MONTANARO: And look; Biden picking off any of these states would be huge in his category because they have a lot of electoral votes.

KEITH: Yeah.

MONTANARO: I mean, Georgia, you know, has 16 electoral votes - North Carolina, 15, Ohio, 18. Arizona's 11 are a big deal because Biden could win without a Wisconsin, for example, or Florida if he were able to pick up Arizona, hold on to everything else Hillary Clinton had and re-, you know, build that blue wall with Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin. Now, look; the fact is here, though, a place like Arizona, you know, is a really new sort of trending Democratic state. We've seen Democrats do well statewide in Senate races. You have a Democrat in a Senate race currently who's doing quite well - Mark Kelly, the astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. You know, he's outpolling Biden, so he may very well pull Biden over the finish line. I think things you have to watch in Arizona are Latinos, the suburbs - Maricopa County is that one big county where Phoenix is - seniors and those white independents who lean Republican. They moved in Kyrsten Sinema's direction, the senator, and helped put her over the top against Martha McSally. If Biden can win them, he can probably win Arizona.

KHALID: So, Domenico, before we let you go, I just want to kind of understand more clearly what it is you're taking into account when you're assessing a state because some of these states - you mentioned this - look like pretty sizable polling leads for Joe Biden. But yet, you're not necessarily saying that these states are fully Democratic or vice versa.

MONTANARO: Right. I mean, you know, we don't just take into account polling. It's not a totally quantitative thing. I'd call this a mixed-methods study, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: It's a - you know, you take a lot of different things into account. And most importantly, I would say, is our on-the-ground reporting as well as conversations that we have, you know, with the campaigns. I mean, they have access to a lot of other information. They can sort of tell you which direction things are sort of trending, and so public polling doesn't sort of tell you everything. And, you know, look; there's - it's fine to have a disagreement about whether, you know, Wisconsin should be a - tip one way or the other or Arizona or Georgia, you know, staying in toss-up. You know, that's great. That's part of the fun of this. That's part of, you know, why we do the analysis. And, you know, I just kind of love ranking these things and putting some good, you know, analysis behind it.

KHALID: Cool. And, Domenico, you're going to be updating these maps at least every month until Election Day, so it's worth pointing out that this map could look a bit different in just a month from now.

MONTANARO: Absolutely. This is reflective of the current environment and not meant to be predictive of what will happen.

KHALID: And a reminder - you can find Domenico's full analysis with our colorful map at npr.org/politics.

I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the presidential election.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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