With A Debate Looming, Progressives Feud And Cory Booker Drops Out : The NPR Politics Podcast New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has suspended his presidential campaign, citing a lack of money to run a winning campaign.Also, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren expressed her frustration with Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, after POLITICO reported that campaign volunteers were provided talking points attacking her.This episode: White House Correspondent Tamara Keith, political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben, and demographics and culture correspondent Juana Summers.Connect:Subscribe to the NPR Politics Podcast here.Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org.Join the NPR Politics Podcast Facebook Group.Subscribe to the NPR Politics Newsletter.Find and support your local public radio station.

With A Debate Looming, Progressives Feud And Cory Booker Drops Out

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FIONA: Hi. This is Fiona (ph).

HELENE: And Helene (ph) - we're out here before the sun is up, waiting to get passes for Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance in Disney World.

FIONA: And I just ran the Disney World Half Marathon yesterday.

HELENE: This podcast was recorded at...


These people are after my heart - 11:40 a.m. on Monday, the 13th of January.

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

HELENE: OK, here is the show.


KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover the presidential campaign.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: And I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture.

KEITH: So, guys, I am alone here in Washington, D.C., in the studio. You are both in the great state of Iowa. Is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: In the concourse - attention - the concourse...

SUMMERS: That is right. As you can hear, I'm at the Des Moines Airport right now, actually, about to head back to Washington.

KEITH: Yes, there's a message on the concourse (laughter). And, Danielle, where are you?

KURTZLEBEN: I am in a hotel room in downtown Des Moines, about to head out to some campaign events. I will be at the debate tomorrow. I am pumped to be back in the Hawkeye State.

KEITH: So, Danielle, as you say, you are in Iowa to attend and cover this debate that is happening tomorrow night. It is the final debate before the caucuses, which are just now 21 days away. And as is a grand tradition on this podcast, I'm hoping you can run through who will be on that debate stage.

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. So there will be six candidates on the debate stage, one fewer than last time. We will have former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer - so everybody who was on the last debate stage minus entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

KEITH: And Tom Steyer was sort of a late add. Can you just remind us of what the requirements were to get on this stage?

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. So to get on the stage, candidates had to meet both a donor and a polling requirement. They had to get more than 225,000 individual unique donors, and they had to meet one of two polling requirements. They either had to get four polls at 5% or more in early states or nationally, or they had to get two polls at 7% percent or more in the early states. And those early states are South Carolina, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire.

SUMMERS: So - and one of the things that we've obviously noticed - and Danielle kind of hinted at this - is that now we have this debate stage that is going to be comprised of all white candidates, despite the fact that when we started out this journey more than a year ago, the big headline of the Democratic primary was that this was one of the most diverse fields in history. Cory Booker ending his campaign has obviously changed that. Just as a note, he had not qualified and would not have been on that stage, and that's why he - one of the reasons he said he couldn't stay in the race.

KEITH: Cory Booker today announced that he was ending his campaign, so I guess we have to say bye, bye, bye.


NSYNC: (Singing) Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye.

KEITH: And in announcing that he was ending his campaign, Booker said that, essentially, he didn't have what he needed.


CORY BOOKER: Today I'm suspending my campaign for president with the same spirit with which it began. It is my faith in us, my faith in us together as a nation, that we share common pain and common problems that can only be solved with a common purpose and a sense of common cause.

KURTZLEBEN: I would say that Cory Booker occupied this kind of middle space. We referred to this on an earlier podcast. It was a point that Scott Detrow kind of got at that we were talking about. It's that Cory Booker seems to have fallen into this weird middle zone of - he's not quite the new, fresh face on the national scene that Pete Buttigieg is in this race, and he's also not the sort of super-high name recognition type person that Joe Biden or maybe Bernie Sanders is. So, you know, in addition to that, there are plenty of voters - if you talk to voters out here, plenty like him. I went to one of his events. I talked to a woman who was moved to tears by him. You had some people that loved him, and the rest of voters seemed to say, like, yeah, he's fine. He's nice. But you didn't have widespread enthusiasm, and that's what you need.

KEITH: which is interesting because he is somebody who almost is synonymous with enthusiasm. He, like, brings so much energy all the time, and his message was very much all about positivity.

SUMMERS: Absolutely. I think one of the questions that we had around Cory Booker is, in this moment where - the biggest thing that I hear from Democratic voters is the fact that they want to nominate a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump in November. Some people raised questions to me when I'd ask them about Cory Booker. They say they like him. They love his personality. They love his energy, but they weren't sure if he had the formula of a candidate who could win and that they could see up on that debate stage.

KEITH: So in the last couple of days, we have gotten some new polling out of Iowa that sort of shows how the field is shaping up and might explain why Cory Booker didn't see a path to the nomination.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. I mean, really, what you've had in these polls - we have had the new - just to remind everybody - the new Iowa poll from the Selzer Polling Company, which is kind of considered the gold standard of polling here in Iowa. And it showed four candidates bunched at the top - Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden. And Bernie Sanders - yeah, the reporting is that he's at the top but leading within the margin of error, so you really just have these four candidates that are all together. And similarly, we got a new poll today from Monmouth Polling that shows Joe Biden at the top. But either way, you still have those four up at the top and then, in both of them, Amy Klobuchar coming in after that.

And so, I mean, really, what this shows is two things. One, of course, you have this lead pack. That's obvious. The other thing that's important to keep in mind is that many Iowa voters could still change their minds, and polling often changes quite drastically within the last week before the caucuses happen. Iowa voters are making up their minds. And the really weird nature of Iowa caucuses, where you might have to give up your candidate and go caucus for someone else, where you have to keep a second choice in mind - that also, I would argue, keeps voters in this kind of undecided place until quite close to the caucuses.

KEITH: So we get these new numbers on the eve of this debate that's coming up. And I wonder what you guys are expecting from the debate, and Juana, I'm wondering if what we saw over the weekend with the Sanders campaign and the Warren campaign getting a bit chippy or - I don't know what the right word is for it. But, like, you know, the non-aggression treaty seems to have been broken.

SUMMERS: So to kind of get our listeners up to speed quickly, the big thing that we saw this weekend is kind of this breakdown of what had been a months-long very friendly campaign between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That changed after Politico reported on the script that Sanders volunteers were using when they were going out and courting candidates. And I'm paraphrasing here, but it essentially said that if they're talking to an undecided voter who's leaning for Warren, that they should tell that person that people who support Warren are highly educated and more affluent - they'd show up and vote Democratic no matter what - and that she's not going to bring any new voters and voices into the Democratic Party. So they're pretty basically making the argument that Warren can't win.

This weekend, I was out with these candidates who were campaigning in Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren was asked about this. And she essentially said that she was disappointed that Bernie Sanders volunteers are trashing her campaign. She urged the Sanders campaign to reconsider. That's something her campaign also started fundraising off of late last night.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me.

SUMMERS: I was in Iowa City with Bernie Sanders when he was asked about this, and he kind of didn't really take responsibility for it. He said, you know, he'd just seen the script, that he considers Elizabeth Warren a friend and that he - that no one was going to talk negatively about her.


BERNIE SANDERS: I got to tell you, I think this is a little bit of a media blow-up, the kind that wants conflict. Elizabeth Warren is a very good friend of mine. We have worked together in the Senate for years. Elizabeth Warren and I will continue to work together. We will debate the issues. No one is going to trash Elizabeth.

SUMMERS: So not really owning this. But it's clear to me that we've reached - as this race is tightening, a new, more aggressive front is coming out from the Sanders campaign, both as it relates to Elizabeth Warren, his longtime friend, and folks like Joe Biden. Like, the Sanders campaign has really been hammering Joe Biden this weekend over his record with black voters as well as his Iraq War vote.

KEITH: OK, so what does this all mean for the debate tomorrow night?

SUMMERS: Yeah. I think that as we're seeing Bernie Sanders and his surrogates take a more aggressive posture as it relates to his opponents, I'm curious to see if the candidate follows suit and does so onstage. But the other thing to note, as Danielle pointed out - he is the candidate who has a slim lead in that marquee Iowa poll. And as we've seen in past debates pretty reliably, the person who's in the lead in those polls is the one who is usually in the spotlight, taking a lot - on a lot of attacks. So I think we could see Bernie Sanders taking on some more oncoming, both from folks who are farther to the center of the party as well as possibly from Warren, whose campaign seems to be keeping up this message that they are not happy about this messaging out of his volunteer script.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And one flipside to all of that - I think, Juana, is, you know, spot-on on all of that. One additional thing is this - is that this is a party that is still quite scarred, I think you could argue, from 2016, with the heavy divides that came up and lingering and painful divides that came up between Sanders and Clinton supporters back then. And I think you can probably expect to see - if the last debate is any prelude to this, you can expect to see candidates - perhaps Amy Klobuchar - come up there and say, listen, and try to present themselves as the voice of reason. Like, listen, guys. We all got to stick together. Or Elizabeth Warren - who, clearly, after the Sanders attack, has been trying to cast herself as having the moral high ground of saying, no; we need to stick together, of saying, I'm very disappointed that he's attacking me - so I am wondering how much certain candidates either try to get into it with Sanders or try to back away and put their hands up and say, hey; I'm just trying to run a clean campaign here.

KEITH: Yeah, though primaries are about vetting, so at some point, it can't be...


KEITH: ...Totally clean. All right. We're going to take a quick break, and when we get back, what policies might come up in the debate?

And we're back. And this is the smallest debate stage that we've seen yet - not literally, but with the number of candidates. Do you have any sense of how that might affect the dynamics onstage or maybe the amount of policy that they get into?

KURTZLEBEN: Let me say something that is broad and very non-specific, and it's that the policies that we will remember coming out of these debates are going to be the policies that draw distinct lines between the candidates. So if there is a divide over foreign policy, like over Iraq, like over what the U.S. should do in any given conflict, then yeah, we'll remember that. This is why - even though everybody complains about it, this is why health care is such a big deal in any of these debates. It's not just that health care is important to Democratic voters. It's that health care is a proxy for how big you think government should be. It's that health care is a proxy for how sweeping you want your change to be. Health care is just an easy way to look at that. So yeah, health care is going to come up. Everybody is going to complain about it, but we are all going to take something away from it as well.

KEITH: And Juana, we've alluded to this before, but another policy area that's likely to come up is Iraq, Iran. Obviously, there was this - there were these heightened tensions over the last week between the U.S. and Iran because of President Trump's decision to take out the Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani. And I'm wondering how you expect this to play out on the debate stage in that there is some daylight between the candidates on Middle East policy.

SUMMERS: Yeah, you're absolutely right. There is quite a bit of daylight between some of them. And this primary has been largely dominated by domestic policy up until this point, but I think that this issue is one that's at the forefront for a lot of Americans. Bernie Sanders' campaign, as I kind of mentioned earlier, has been really telegraphing that this is an area where they see a clear distinction between themselves and Joe Biden, where they think that Biden is not being truthful about his record. So I think you'll certainly see him bring it up, but it's not just the Biden and Sanders wings of the party. There's actually a lot of kind of room between where all the candidates sit, so I would expect to hear a robust discussion about that, as well as what role America should play on the world stage.

KEITH: Yeah. Pete Buttigieg is another one of the candidates who, as this has been playing out, has been more vocal about his foreign policy views.


KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely.

KEITH: All right. That is a wrap for today. As you may have guessed, because there is a debate late tomorrow night, we will have a podcast in your feeds after the debate is over and after we've gotten a chance to chat about what happened. But if there's news tomorrow, we will be back in your feeds by 5 p.m. Either way, we'll be back.

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

KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover the campaign.

SUMMERS: And I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture.

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


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