2020: Biden Holds Early Edge : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast President Trump is in a political hole and has a lot of ground to make up over the next five months if he hopes to win another term, an NPR analysis of the Electoral College map finds.

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This episode: campaign correspondent Scott Detrow, congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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NPR Analysis: Biden Has Early Edge On 2020 Political Map

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NPR Analysis: Biden Has Early Edge On 2020 Political Map

NPR Analysis: Biden Has Early Edge On 2020 Political Map

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JEN: This is Jen (ph).

REAGAN: And this is Reagan (ph).

JEN: I'm cooking dinner.

REAGAN: And I am doing homework and listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST that my mom listens to every single night. This one's for all the kids out there. Stay strong. We are in this together. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's 2:06 Eastern on Wednesday, June 17.

JEN: Things may have changed since the recording of this podcast, but I'll still be cooking.

REAGAN: And I'll still be doing homework.

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

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Oh, wow. I hope that they are excited about hearing us.

DETROW: Not sure.

SNELL: This is not just a chore. Oh, no.

DETROW: Hopefully we're better than homework.

SNELL: NPR POLITICS PODCAST - better than homework.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.

SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

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

DETROW: So we're going to talk today about presidential politics. We have talked a lot lately about the national polls and how good they look for Biden. But every time we do that, we always get a very predictable response. Wait a second - but the electoral map. And it is a very good response because that's what matters. And, Domenico, you have spent the last few days doing a lot of analysis on the electoral map. You've got a whole story on the website - npr.org - laying out different ways that this election could go. We're going to talk about that with the understanding, of course, that it's June. And there's a long way to go before the actual election. But as of right now, in mid-June, Domenico, your map looks really good for Joe Biden.

MONTANARO: It is good for Biden right now. You know, he, in our map, has a 238-186 advantage over Trump. And remember, you need 270 to win. It's half of the 538 electoral votes, a majority of that. So, you know, he's not quite there yet. What's interesting is you've got eight states that are pure toss-ups. And you've got 16 total that lean toward one candidate or the other. You know, that only is, like, less than half the country's population lives in competitive states. If you take Texas out of that, which is - we have lean Republican, it's only about a third of the country, a little bit more than that, who are actually going to be, you know, really targeted in this election.

DETROW: That's interesting because I looked at your map, and I thought, wow, this is so much broader than we expected it to be. We had talked so long about a presidential race that might really just come down to three states that Trump flipped from Democrat - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan. I looked and thought, this is much broader, what a much more national campaign. And you're making a good point. It's still really not that much of the country that matters electorally.

MONTANARO: Right. And I would say that actually comes down to three regions. I would say the Rust Belt, the Sun Belt and Florida. (Laughter) I'm just going to put Florida in there...

DETROW: Florida as its own region.

MONTANARO: ...As its own planet, given just how much really revolves around it. And, you know, I think when you look at those three regions, you see very realistic paths for how Biden can win and how Trump can hold on.

DETROW: Yeah. Before we talk more about the presidential map, Kelsey, as Democrats have felt increasingly good about their chances in the presidential race, they have felt just as good in their chances at retaking the Senate. What are some key states to look at in the Senate contest, and what do those tell us about the overall state of the chamber maybe flipping?

SNELL: Yeah. So I'm looking at Domenico's map right now, and I see two states very clearly here that are in the yellow category or the toss-up category. That's Arizona and North Carolina. And then another one that is considered lean Democratic, that's Colorado. And those are three of the states where Democrats think that they have a good shot at flipping seats from Republican to Democrat. And then I'm looking again at Iowa, another state that, Domenico, you have listed here as lean Republican. So if these four states are in the category of - in play right now, that means it's not just about the presidential being seriously, seriously in play but about every dynamic in Washington because we don't have any realistic expectation that the House is going to change. If Biden wins and if Democrats flip the Senate, that is a dramatic, dramatic reversal of what Washington would look like. I know that sounds obvious, but think about in every single way that we have operated over the past four years, how dramatically it would change if Democrats were, you know, had the opportunity to start bringing back Obama-era policies, moving forward on progressive policies that have become a more, you know, stable part of their platform. This would be a tremendous tidal wave.

MONTANARO: A Biden win would certainly open up a path to Democrats controlling the Senate absolutely. I mean, and if you think about Maine, you know, Maine is a state where Susan Collins is in a lot of trouble potentially. You know, and this is a place where you're going to have at least one of the congressional districts be a toss-up that President Trump won, the second congressional district in Maine. But the rest of the state - pretty Democratic. I also think about a state like Arizona, where you have a very popular Democratic Senate candidate in Mark Kelly, an astronaut, who's actually outpolling Biden. He's up by about 9 points in some of the latest polls. Biden's up by 3 or 4 points in Arizona. And I wonder if you're going to wind up having a situation in which if Mark Kelly's lead is so big, he winds up helping Joe Biden over the finish line in Arizona, when usually it depends the other way around on how the presidential candidate does for those down-ballot candidates for how they will do.

DETROW: Domenico, I want to talk about one more state. I'm looking at your map. Ohio is a toss-up state. And Iowa, as Kelsey mentioned, is a lean Republican state. I feel like these are two states that we talked a lot about, states that Barack Obama won, but from 2016 on, just felt like they had slipped way past the grasp of Democrats, particularly because lower income, lower education, working class white voters had drifted away from the Democratic Party so much. Are these states more competitive because there's been a reversal among that trend or because of other factors?

MONTANARO: No. All those demographic trends certainly still hold. But what we've seen is President Trump's approval rating woefully underwater in both states and across the Midwest in particular. I don't know if it has to do with the trade wars. You know, soybeans was a big issue in Iowa. But let's just put it this way. If we're talking about Ohio and Iowa, that is very bad news for President Trump because he needs to be able to hold those states to be able to retain his 2016 advantage. He's got about a 36 electoral vote cushion. He has a very narrow margin of error. He can't afford to lose a place like Iowa or Ohio and then hope to win in all the other places.

It just doesn't work that way because some of those other states are more prone to voting for Democrats anyway. The demographics help Joe Biden a little bit more. So right now, we may be seeing President Trump at his nadir of political power. You know, he may be at the low point. And I think that's the one caveat here. There's 4 1/2 months to go until the election. And right now, President Trump would need to win 73% of all the toss-up states in order to win reelection. But he did it in 2016. He was able to win 91% of the states that are here in the toss-up category. So, you know, he clearly has had people there who have voted for him in the past, and he's certainly hoping to do that.

MONTANARO: One thing that I've heard from national Republican strategist types, people who are thinking very, very closely about the Senate races in particular, they feel like some of these dynamics really shift depending on what is in the national conversation as we get closer to the election. So if, say, the country is talking more about immigration and maybe gun control and less about coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, they think that Trump can make up some ground here. But that is a very big if.

DETROW: All right. This is, of course, a conversation we're having in June. A lot is going to happen. I think we know that for sure. Over the next few months, Domenico, you're going to be updating this once a month or so on npr.org, though. So we will track any big changes. And you can read that story on the website right now. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will talk about the new bill that Senate Republicans have just introduced to deal with policing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: And we're back. We have talked recently about what House Democrats want to do about police reform. We've talked about what the White House wants to do and has laid out in executive action. So today, Senate Republicans have rolled out their bill to address systemic racism and violence from the police. Kelsey, what is in this bill?

SNELL: This bill focuses mostly on incentives and more resources for training, and to get local departments and agencies to comply with standards on use of force and reporting. So it creates incentives for departments to ban chokeholds without banning them outright. It creates a duty to intervene in excessive use of force situations. So if one officer sees another officer doing something that could be considered excessive force, it would be the job of the person observing to step in. There's also money for body-worn cameras and grants to increase police forces, the community policing. And they would make lynching a federal crime and establish a bipartisan commission - they were saying like a 9/11-style commission to consider future criminal justice legislation. So they would think about it for 18 months before looking at another set of potential police reforms.

MONTANARO: I mean, that is kind of amazing to me, considering we've had three weeks of protests. Of course, the protesters are calling for urgent action. And, of course, everything gets, you know, slowed down when it comes to Washington. Like, I don't think protesters are really interested in hearing about a blue ribbon commission that's going to take a year and a half to come up with something.

SNELL: You would find a lot of agreement among Democrats who saw this bill.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: So, Kelsey, let me actually, to that point, back up to something I said at the beginning. I said, this is a bill to address systemic racism. Do Senate Republican leaders see that as the problem?

SNELL: I'm glad you asked because it came up today at the press conference about this bill. It was actually the last question asked. And Senator Tim Scott, who is the only black Republican in the Senate, was asked about systemic racism and basically was told, you know, Democrats frame this as an issue of systemic racism. And Scott was asked if he agrees. And this is part of his response. He gave a very long response. But this kind of gets the meat of what his answer was.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: We're not a racist country. We deal with racism because there's racism in the country. Both are mutually true. They're both true, not mutually exclusive. So I don't worry about the definitions that people want to use. It's good for headlines, but it's really bad policy. We're going to focus on getting something done.

SNELL: So I think that kind of gets to the core of the problem here is that Republicans and Democrats are on the surface talking about some of - really similar ideas, that they want to increase confidence in the police, that they want to address problems where policing has been unevenly applied to different communities in this country. But when it gets down to the way they view the problem and how they want to address it, things start to come apart.

DETROW: That being said, like, what is your real-talk assessment of the willingness or even interest in Senate Republicans and House Democrats finding some sort of middle ground compromise bill? Or would they rather just say, we have very different views of this, let's deal with it in November?

SNELL: To be completely honest, that's what I'm trying to figure out right now. I think that there - it depends on who you ask. I think that there are some people who genuinely would like to see agreement here. They would like to see a bill get passed. But I also think there are some people who really feel that there isn't a lot of common ground available. There are a lot of Republicans who think that this isn't a federal issue, that it is not the job of Congress to be telling local and state police departments how to do their jobs. So it's a very, very tough situation and one that I haven't seen Republicans and Democrats have to confront in this way in a really long time.

MONTANARO: You know, tonally, I'm struck by the fact that Republicans have really changed the way they talk about race in some ways. But when it comes down to whether or not something is going to get passed, that's where I think a lot of Democrats and some of the protesters would say that they think that these are kind of half-measures. I mean, just take the president's executive order and look at just the issue of chokeholds. The president and the executive order would incentivize, you know, people who train police departments not to use chokeholds, but that's not banning chokeholds overall at a federal level.

SNELL: This is, again, a situation where on the face, there is an agreement about what some of the goals may be. But it is very, very, very difficult to see where a middle ground exists that is actually satisfactory to anybody, particularly people who are looking at maps like Domenico's and saying, well, you know, there's the potential for a different president down the line. And maybe if you're a Democrat, you want to hold out and see if you can get a deal with that president instead.

DETROW: All right. That is it for today, which is a good thing because the paving on the road outside my house seems to have restarted about a minute or so ago.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: A reminder to submit to us what you can't let go of this week. Record yourself. Keep it to about 20 seconds or so and send it to nprpolitics@npr.org. We'll play some of the responses in our Friday show. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the campaign.

SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

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

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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